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Winning a Fair, Just, and Equitable Energy Transition
The clean energy transition isn’t theoretical – it’s happening across Colorado and driving job creation and our economic boom every day. Over the course of the coming decades, the world will dramatically shift its energy use to cleaner sources and adopt measures to achieve carbon neutrality. We need leaders in Washington who are committed to a fair, just and equitable energy transition that will also stabilize our middle class and grow our economy. Colorado families and our collective future depend on how we manage this transition.
As a former Obama official at the Department of Energy, climate advisor to Governor Bill Ritter, and Colorado House Majority Leader, I have dedicated the last 15 years to building our clean energy economy in a thoughtful, practical manner. According to the Blue Green Alliance – a partnership between green energy advocates and labor organizations – there are already 1.9 million Americans employed in the energy efficiency sector and 600,000 workers directly employed in the production of low-carbon electricity. And that is just the beginning.
To be truly inclusive, our growing clean energy economy must be accessible to workers with different educational levels, both rural- and urban-based, and workers affected by the transition away from fossil fuels. We must encourage existing and emerging industries to work directly with high schools, unions, and community colleges on curriculums that will provide broad opportunities for employment. We need to ensure that these workers and future workforces are well-trained, fairly compensated, and provided safe work environments. This effort must include pathways to organizing workers, specifically protecting their right to stand together to negotiate better working conditions through collective bargaining. This is why I support the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.”
As new technologies advance, we have to chance to shape these emerging industries from their inception. That is why I am developing the Workers Bill of Rights for a Sustainable Future. For any clean technology entity (e.g. clean energy/ efficiency/ emissions-capture/ sequestration/ battery-storage) seeking federal funding or technical assistance to vet or launch their business, they must first pledge to pay family-sustaining wages and benefits, and never stand in the way of workers seeking to organize. By educating these growing businesses about the benefits of a highly-trained and organized workforce, we will assure that the transition to a clean energy economy will be fair, just and inclusive.
We cannot pretend this transition will be without consequences for communities with workers tied to fossil fuel extraction. We need leaders committed to do everything we can to provide appropriate programs for retraining and reemployment, including incentives for comparable job development in those communities. We must assess the affected workers’ unique needs and realistic opportunities. In some cases that may mean expanding retirement options. Our approach must be bold and encompass all sectors affected.
Across Colorado, farmers and ranchers are hosting a growing number of solar and wind projects, earning valuable new revenues at a time when President Trump’s ongoing trade wars take big bites out of their traditional income. But there are additional opportunities to maximize economic benefits to agricultural communities. We must incentivize regenerative agriculture programs to encourage farmers and ranchers to sequester carbon in their soils. These are the kinds of cooperative engagements that can be put into place immediately and benefit us long into the future.
As we accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy to combat the climate crisis, we must adopt policies that will maximize opportunity and minimize dislocation. Thanks to the vision of Colorado leaders, we have made great strides in Colorado towards a sustainable future. As this transition broadens and accelerates, we need national leaders who will ensure that education and training opportunities are inclusive, and that employers are paying family-sustaining wages and benefits, and providing safe working environments. When it comes to addressing climate change, failure is not an option. Just as our environment cannot be left behind – neither should our economy or our workforce.
Alice Madden is a candidate for U.S. Senate and a former renewable energy advisor to Governor Bill Ritter and the US Dept of Energy.