Does the jobs recovery boost chances for the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?


Employers in the U.S. created more jobs in March than at any time in the past three years, showing the recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s is broadening and becoming more entrenched.

That’s Bloomberg reporting on new data from the Labor Department, which showed that “payrolls rose by 162,000 workers, the third gain in the past five months.”

Since bad economic news would certainly be bad for a climate bill, this must be seen as good news.   I have repeatedly written about studies showing how clean energy legislation will create 1.7 million jobs and opportunities for low-income families, including lower energy bills.  And Nobel prize-winning NYT columnist Paul Krugman has explained why climate action “now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump” by giving “businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities.”

But the conventional wisdom, or rather, the conventional ignorance, is that a climate bill will hurt jobs and the economy — even though that isn’t what the public believes, as many recent polls make clear:

poll 2010

That comes from a Allstate/National Journal/Heartland Monitor poll in January, when the economic and jobs picture wasn’t as good as it is today (see “It’s all about Independents “” and Independence: Unlike health care reform, the clean air, clean energy jobs bill that cuts oil use and pollution is a bipartisan political winner in every poll”).

Consider a poll on the climate bill that I wrote about in September of likely voters in 16 key states “” AK, AR, IN, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, NV, ND, NH, OH, PA, SD, VA, WV (see Swing state poll finds 60% “would be more likely to vote for their senator if he or she supported the bill” and Independents support the bill 2-to-1):

  • On job creation:  50% say the number of jobs will increase, 26% say it will decrease and 26% say it won’t change.

A December AP-Stanford poll focusing primarily on global warming again found the public gets that the climate bill would create jobs and help the economy and/or at least not lose jobs or hurt it (see “Overwhelming US Public Support for Global Warming Action“):

Do You Think That The U.S. Doing Things To Reduce Global Warming In The Future Would Cause There To Be More/Fewer Jobs For People Around The Country?

More jobs                       40%

Fewer jobs                      23

Would not affect jobs     33

Do You Think That The U.S. Doing Things To Reduce Global Warming In The Future Would Hurt/Help The U.S. Economy?

Help U.S. economy             46%

Hurt U.S. economy              27

Would not affect economy  24

Certainly Republicans understand that the good job news is bad news for their agenda of opposing all of Obama’s new legislative efforts and attacking all of his previous ones, including the stimulus, as failures.  Indeed, as Think Progress reported, the Republican National committee immediately responded to the Labor report by releasing a falsehood-filled briefing that claims that the job growth occured “mostly” due to hiring Census workers:

But March Job Growth Is “Disappointment” Because Job Gains Mostly From Census. “CalculatedRisk reports that even if Friday’s employment report shows a gain of 200,000 jobs in March, as expected, it might be viewed as a disappointment: ‘The March report will be distorted by two factors: 1) any bounce back from the snow storms, and 2) the decennial Census hiring that picked up sharply in March. “¦ Also the Census will add something like 100,000 workers to the March report “¦” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,, Accessed 4/2/10; Ben White and Eamon Javers, Politico’s “Morning Money,” 3/30/10)

In fact, TP notes, “the RNC’s claim bears little relation to reality. Of the 162,000 jobs added to the economy last month, 123,000 were in the private sector.” Joel Naroff, the president of Naroff Economic Advisors, wrote in a client note that “the federal government didn’t hire nearly as many Census workers as thought. It was the private sector that stepped up to the plate.” The Census Bureau hired only 48,000 workers.

I watched the report on CNBC this morning, and the analysts were all pleasantly surprised that this job growth came with far less Census hires than expected.  The chart at the top illustrating the job gains comes from Speaker Pelosi’s using Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

I would still delay starting the cap until at least 2013, to further undercut any economic attack on the bill.  Also, the impacts of the recession have not worked their way through the energy system yet, so the early permit allocations are likely to be too high, which means there really is no environmental benefit in starting the bill in 2012.

Finally, it must be said that conventional wisdom has it that passage of the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill is still a long shot.  But conventional wisdom has been wrong so often, and now that we can see the stimulus bill spared the economy from the Bush-Cheney depression and has jumpstarted an economic recovery, there is no longer an excuse that “we can’t pass a climate bill during a recession.”

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24 Responses to Does the jobs recovery boost chances for the bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill?

  1. Kevin says:

    It would be interesting to know what twitter has to say about whether the public wants a clean energy bill:

  2. Dan B says:

    In the bigger picture we are transitioning into a 21st Century energy economy. The fossil fuel era is ending. Businesses that prospered by extracting and delivering those fossil fuels see a 30 year window in which they can continue to profit mightily, after then it’s not certain their business model will endure, or even exist. As Web 3.0 comes into it’s own the value of networks will increase as will the communities and organizations that understand that social media is not just a recreational phenomenon.

    As the web empowers communities and undercuts hierarchies we’ll see violent pushback, as evidenced by the RNC’s knee jerk “NO” to every positive development. Billions of dollars have gone to top-down corporations. The Web and distributed renewable energy are a big threat to the hierarchies that have dominated the industrial age.

    All we have to do is apply a little pressure on the roadblocks to clean green energy.

  3. Dan B says:

    There are some potential pitfalls to the utopian vision of distributed and networked clean green energy. If China’s command and control version of renewable energy is as wildly successful as it seems we will have a potent model of the top down approach to progress. The other is if we have a disastrous weather event (drought in the American breadbasket), or combination of events (drought, catastrophic storms, collapse of major ice sheets, regional forest fires, & mass migration of human populations..)that puts the economy into a tailspin we could see the rise of demagogues who feed on fear.

    It will be a challenge to overcome the “easy” answers of demagogues unless we have a clear and compelling counter narrative.

  4. Leif says:

    Another point is that the “smart grid” investment which will be significant will be obsolete if viable ‘Point of use” energy becomes reality in the not too far distant future. Perhaps “obsolete” is a bit over the top but I feel that humanity must go toward Point of Use technology in the long term and anything less is building in the status quo of top down energy that favors big money and not the consumer/producer thus enriching all humanity.

  5. Pete Salazar says:

    We have lost 3.7 million jobs since the porkulus bill was signed. It wasn’t true that signing the bill would keep the unemployment rate under 8%. It just was not true. The market place has added 3 million more people into the work force. Obama said the economy would add 95,000 jobs per month. Well losing 3.7 million is far from adding 95,000 per month.

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    Pete, that’s an interesting interpretation of what the stimulus bill has done.

    Please look at the red portion of the graph at the top of the page. That’s roughly the time prior to the stimulus bill getting signed.

    Project a line on down from there and you’ll see the likely depression we would enjoyed. If you want to wring your hands over 3.7 million or 8% go ahead. Personally, I’m happy that we managed to turn the bus around before it crashed over the cliff.

    Leif, I can’t see how we could possibly create a “point of use” energy system. There are places which just don’t have adequate wind/solar/geothermal potential during large parts of the year. It would be extremely expensive to create enough storage to carry them through the lean times. We’re most likely going to use the grid to ship power around from place to place from now until we learn how to make magic.

    Perhaps if hot rock geothermal can get perfected, but aside from that….

    Dan, I think we have a rapidly shrinking political force opposing renewables. Look at how major corporations such as GE, IBM, GM, most of the utility giants, etc. are increasing their involvement in renewables. Left on the ‘contra’ side are coal mines and oil companies. And even oil companies are getting involved in things such as batteries for EVs.

    Personally, I think we’ve crested the transition peak and from here on it’s going to be a downhill rush to install renewables. And if we can grease the slope by either putting a price on carbon or increasing subsidies for renewables/EVs I think we’ve got a chance to get our carbon emissions under control.

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Bob Wallace:

    ” . . . from here on it’s going to be a downhill rush to install renewables. . . .”

    We certainly hope so. Perhaps a standard DC voltage, plug, and socket combination would promote the adoption of PV and fuel cells and batteries and thermovoltaic, connecting DC sources to all the DC devices . . .

  8. David B. Benson says:

    I’d like to see work started on a demostration IFR so that when ready, a factory can churn those Gen 4 power plants out, rapidly replacing coal burners.

    We don’t want to hafta buy IFRs from the Chinese, do we?

  9. Leif says:

    Bob, #6: I fully agree with you with the limitations of current technologies but give us a break thru on Solar for instance from ~15% to significantly more and lower costs to boot. i.e. Daniel Nocera of MIT.
    Today at 48 degrees latitude in rainy Port Townsend a friend of mine often sells energy to the grid with todays technology. Many homes have access to sunshine. More importantly many in the third world could become energy producers and move out of slums with even modest positive outputs and resulting cash flow. It will not happen unless capitalism and corporations work with humanity to improve the well-being of all rather than enriching the few at the expense of the many.
    Humanity First, Status Quo, NO!

  10. Bob Wallace says:

    Leif, how do you supply Port Townsend with electricity if all you have is solar and you aren’t connected to the grid? What happens when the sun doesn’t shine for a few days? And let’s assume that you have 50% efficient panels at $1 a watt….

    Fact is, you can’t. (I’m off the grid with solar and I had to run my generator day before yesterday. And I might have to tomorrow. I can’t afford a battery pack that will carry me for a couple of weeks. And right now I can’t afford a large enough array to charge a huge battery bank if the sun happens to poke out for an hour or so.)

    Port Townsend needs to be able to import hydro from all the falling water you have in the PNW and the wind that blows east of there. They might even need to purchase some solar from the Southwest to fill in the gaps.

    Same is true with just about every place around the globe. Few places have a 100% reliable source of renewable power. Iceland might be the only exception with all their hydro and geothermal.

    The only way renewables will work is by hooking up very large portions of the globe, harvesting power where it is available, when it is available, and shipping it to where it’s needed.

  11. Leif says:

    Again I agree with much that you say. However not one mile from my door is a tide current that often flows a 2 to 3 knots and minimal down time. Again not constant power but significant amounts. In fact a tide generator is fully operational at Race Rocks ~30 miles to the West and another bigger one is sighted and about to be deployed about 10 miles to the East of me. If you had an electric car you would have a battery pack that could easily pick up some of the slack of off hours. If all your neighbors in turn had battery cars with tide feed to top off and balance?
    Smart meters would centennially be helpful which contradicts my original hypothesis but home efficiency has a long way to go. Personal efficiency likewise has room for improvement. Batteries, as presently configured, are currently not cost effective, again I agree. What I am trying to point out is that humanity has not expended much effort in alternatives. Would you have envisioned the internet thirty years ago or jet transportation a hundred? Give humanity 30 years, a few billion dollars, the wolf at the door, and I expect significant changes.
    Again I say, a perquisite of any good to happen, capitalism, corporations and humanity must pursue sustainability with sheared enthusiasm.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    OK, we could say that your community is an “Iceland”. You’ve got a reliable source of non-carbon emitting electricity. It’s intermittent, but on a short cycle and very predictable. Create some storage to shave power off peak flow and fill in the slack tide periods and you’re set.

    You don’t need the grid.

    Except. Except when that huge deep-water fishing net drifts in and fouls all your turbines. Or when some ship drags anchor and rips out the undersea cable that brings your power to land. You might be down for days or even weeks.

    So what to do? Do you create a couple months of storage or install a set of natural gas turbines that might sit forever without being used?

    Or would it be better to be hooked to the larger grid so that you can buy some power from other sources until you get your tidal turbines back on line?

    I agree with you that making power close to point of use makes great sense. But building a lot of free-standing utility companies doesn’t.

    And I agree that “humanity has not expended much effort in alternatives”. We failed to aggressively research the methods. Had we continued what Jimmy Carter started we might be in Fat City now. But we didn’t. We’re playing catch up.

  13. Leif says:

    Bob: Or a force 5 hurricane mosses buy and takes out you power grid or an ice storm drops your high voltage power lines or… a terrorist flies a radio controlled dirty bomb into your sub station. We must deal with power outages all the time. Remote feeds expose that much more line to trauma. More in the future than today as storms become a bit more vigorous. Point sources are much more resilient than large feeds in my view. There is no doubt that all will not be able or even willing to mess with point of use, on the other hand given some efficiency gains and a tech break thru or two, which we need anyway, point of use has many advantages. I believe you your self mentioned that you have such a system now. A large wind mill charging a used RR tank car with air pressure would power many hours of farm reserve for instance. While supplying the neighborhood during normal operation with minimal line loss in the process.

  14. Bob Wallace says:

    I totally agree with you that generation close to point of use has great advantages. But I continue to suggest that it’s not a practical way to power the world. Too many places do not have access to ‘almost always on’ low carbon generation methods and must rely on shared resources spread over wide areas.

    As for the smart grid, the idea is to take the current grid and – wait for this – make it smarter.

    Right now an outage in on small area can take down many surrounding areas and then it takes a long time for the initial problem to be identified, repaired, and all the outages corrected. New technology monitors small portions of the grid, sending performance measurements back to central control systems 30 times a second. If there is an outage correction does not require multiple crews checking all the possibilities but the problem can be isolated very quickly and the portions that went down in the cascade can be switched back on. Remotely.

    We now have overhead power cables with built in heaters. Control boxes along the system can monitor humidity/temperature and deice the lines before they collapse with the weight of snow and ice. Cable/heater cost is less than the cost of replacing normal cables one time.

    Presently there are a number of ‘end of the road’ subgrids that can loose their power due to an upstream break in power. Backup loops are being created (and smartly controlled) so that if a car plows into a power pole service can be rerouted to those buildings which in the past would have gone dark.

    Inverters/phase matchers are being installed between grids so that power can be shared from grids which happen to be operating at different voltages, frequencies, or just out of phase. This means fewer brownouts because power can be moved from where it is to where it is needed.

    And if you’d really like to see how the world is going to be served by major grid improvements, take a look at Desertec – the European Supergrid….

  15. Leif says:

    Bob Wallace, #15: Thank you for the DC power transmission link.
    I will concede that a smart grid has redeeming value and will be part of the future should we have one. On the other hand you do not have my total capitulation.

    My concern is how to get the billion plus or so third world and poverty plagued folks out of the hole. To that end I feel point of use energy is still the only solution. It is clear that massive grid upgrades will not reach the slums, shanty towns or rural villages of Africa or the world over anytime soon. Even if it did those folks could not afford to pay for the power anyway. Yet affordable power is the only solution to their dilemma. Their requirements are minimal at least to start. Being able to charge a second hand cell phone can coordinate a meeting to sell goods and services or plan escape route for a whole community. A solar charged LED light can open productive hours into the night for education, crafts or art. Imagine the impact of a first generation iPad reprogrammed to benefit a rural African community. There will soon be millions of those available when the second generation hits the stores. But they are only good if they have electrons to feed them. I could envision a kid on a rickshaw with solar panels on it, peddling around to find sunshine in shanty towns charging devices for a small fee, paying back a micro loan that got him/her in business in the first place.

    If capitalism and corporations do not factor into the economy the plight of the destitute we will not be able to build stuff faster than the down-troddened will be able to destroy it. And you know that they will. All they want is a chance at life as well. If it is our greed that is responsible for their deaths how can you blame them? That is how you defeat terrorism! I would contend that it is the prime obligation of the haves to alleviate world suffering. If capitalism and corporations are structured to do anything less we have a failed paradigm. How can one argue otherwise?

  16. Bob Wallace says:

    Well, you’ve kind of morphed the discussion from whether we should maintain the grid in developed places to how do we deliver power to places where the grid does not exist.

    I agree. Small individual building/village systems make sense where it would cost a fortune to bring the grid. I’m a living example of it. When I bought this land about ten years ago I got a bid to bring grid power. It would only have cost me $300,000. I put in a very adequate solar/gas generator system for around $10,000.

    Certainly $10k is too much for people in the ‘yet to be developed’ world, but a less capable system is within their reach. We’ve figured out how to provide a solar panel, necessary controllers, and a small battery for a minimal amount of money. In fact, by taking the money that these people were spending on kerosene for lighting they can make payments on a system, and own it outright. With these systems people can light their rooms, power their cell phones, run a radio. Even run a ‘netbook’ computer – mine pulls only 15 watts.

    The reason that we can do this is because of big corporations. Big corporations are the ones who have brought the cost of solar down from >$12 a watt to $3 or less a watt in the last 20 years. And big corporations are moving that cost closer to $1 per watt.

    For profit corporations are neither moral nor immoral. They are amoral, without morals.

    Corporations are focused on making money, not doing good nor bad. Lacking moral controls they will generally do whatever makes money. And because of this we have to make laws/regulations to control their behavior.

    Put the proper controls on business and you get the benefits of free markets and competition. And you avoid/control activities which damage the public.

    Like it or not, big business seems to be bringing us world peace. The last time (I think I’ve got my facts straight) that business made a *net* profit from war was World War I. WWII created a net loss. Markets disappeared, supply streams vanished, infrastructure was destroyed.

    In the 60+ years since WWII the globe has become even more interconnected. There’s no way that Microsoft/Toyota/Dow Chemical/UPS wants global business disrupted.

    But that does not make big (or small) business good. We must assume that given free rein the greedy will do bad. Just like we must assume that if we don’t maintain our roof, it will leak. But keep adequate controls in place, adjusting them as needed, and we can move ourselves forward and minimize our pain.

  17. Leif says:

    Bob Wallace, #17: You are fun to spar with. I hope to prove a worthy adversary.
    I wish I could share your opinion about corporations being amoral. Just as I did not think thru “smart grid” I believe you might revisit that statement. Lets start at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Child labor and 16 hour days, deplorable conditions, worker safety ignored, injured cast aside, unions physically attacked. More recently Bhopal, cigarettes, Love Canal, and currently humanity in a, well corporate funded, battle of survival to retain earth’s very life support systems. For what? Profit of the few on the backs of the many. Comes very close to immoral in my book.. Admittedly there are exceptions and thumbs up to them. The OMB reports that the economy would be better off pursuing a green economy yet still corporations fight to retain “Their” profits at the expense of the many. Capitalism has granted a fiduciary responsibility to corporations to maximize profits with NO provision for long term sustainability. Even today humanity is not granted a seat at the table of corporate decisions. Further evidence? ~5 % of humanity currently control ~95% of the world capital yet they fight tooth and nail for the remainder with zero concern for the remainder. Immoral in my book!

  18. Leif says:

    Bob yet again: While I fully agree with you that capitalism and corporations will be required to have even a slim chance of mitigating the current mess, the nations of the world annually spend ~$1.5 trillion a year to perpetuate the status quo with military kill capability. That amount could be vastly reduced if even half that were spent yearly reducing misery. That $1.5 trillion does not take into account Home Land Security. Again I ask way? And answered. Because it is more profitable to produce weapons than home chargers and sustainable farm practices for those with little to no money up front. It is more profitable to make enemies and hunt them than make friends and help them. That is why.

  19. Bob Wallace says:

    All those things you mention – cigarette manufacturing, child labor, industrial pollution – are examples of where we as a society failed to put adequate constraints on business.

    We left the door open for corporations to seek profits doing things which caused us more harm that good. I think we have to accept the responsibility to set the constraints on business rather than to expect inanimate “objects” to develop an internal moral code.

    Right now WE are failing to tweak the economic scales to insure that corporations switch from fossil fuels to renewables within an optimal time frame. As long as WE allow coal plants to sell their electricity at bargain basement prices and not require them to pay for the health costs, environmental damage, and security costs which we incur it’s “our bad”.

    When we get our work done and remove the carbon subsidy which we are now providing those amoral corporations are going to turn on a dime and rush to the new profit centers of green energy.

  20. Leif says:

    I have said to the point of boredom for regular readers of CP that we need capitalism and corporations to embrace humanities goals of sustainability with shared enthusiasm. Currently neither will even sit at the same table with humanity. Note WTO meetings, and recent pow-wows with the administration reported by Joe here on CP. Further more the Supreme Court has just handed the C&C faction increased power to grease their wheels in their own favor. Humanity truly needs to become more vocal.

  21. Leif says:

    Bob:…”amoral corporations are going to turn on a dime and rush to the new profit centers of green energy.”
    It does humanity no good if corporations just go back and make new and huge profits profits on green energy if they just keep all the money and let a large fraction of humanity remain destitute. Capitalism must be structured in a manor that all boats are lifted. Billionaires out of millionaires produced by a green economy is only marginally better than what we have now. It is still immoral IMO to have 10%? of the population living in ghettos and worse.

  22. Bob Wallace says:

    Leif, your seeming belief that corporations somehow have “souls” to which we can appeal, thus solving human problems just doesn’t fit my take on reality.

    Corporations, businesses in general, are going to pursue activities which make the owners (and top level management) money. Sure, some are altruistic, at least for a while. But even the ones which “do no evil” often get sold to other people who care less about being a force for good than they care for the bottom line. Look at Ben and Jerry’s, Pacific Lumber, ….

    Corporations are not going to solve our problems unless they can make some money off of doing so. It’s up to us to tweak regulations, tax codes, subsidies, etc. to get them to work for us rather than against us.

    Private enterprise is a wonderful thing. There is nothing like the profit motive to get people to work hard, be very innovative, and create. But if society does not provide the “soul” be assured that private enterprise will screw us over just as readily as help us out.

    It’s up to society to create playing rules for corporations which serves our needs. I don’t think there is any way to talk corporations into playing nice if by playing nice they might suffer a decrease in their profits.

  23. Leif says:

    Corporations per say are nothing without the people that not only manage them but also those that devote lifetimes of effort to work within the legal framework provided by their business ethic. We agree that it is incumbent on the human “powers that be” to provide moral guidance, soul if you will, to those efforts. (Obviously lacking in many. i.e. Koch Bro., EXXON, WTO…) We both agree as well that humanity has been given the smelly end of the stick for the most part. The ruthless have been able to exploit the “loopholes” within the given “legal” framework to maximize profits and power and in turn parlay that influence to insure their continued and increased success. Often outside the law that allows there existence in the first place.

    If we eat a lot less meat-y
    Will we get a climate treat-y?

    Best wishes, Leif