GUEST EDITORIAL: A new focus on climate change

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board (TNS)
U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about climate change issues in the State Dining Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Also pictured, left to right, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and White House science adviser Eric Lander. (Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

President Joe Biden wasted no time in doing an about-face when it comes to the nation’s policy on climate change, acknowledging its ongoing devastating effects nationwide and directing a shift that promotes clean energy. His plan is not just about going green, but creating jobs as the country turns away from a reliance on fossil fuels.

It’s an approach that rightly builds on two realities: the need to create new jobs if those in the fossil fuel industry are eliminated, and the need to act as environmental stewards before the situation worsens.

Biden’s immediate directives would double the nation’s offshore wind energy, conserve 30% of the country’s lands and waters in the next 10 years and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet. The more ambitious long-term goal is to eliminate pollution from fossil fuel power plants by 2035 and from the economy, overall, by 2050.

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It’s a risky move by the new president, but one that can be doable by promoting job creation, particularly in the renewable energy and automotive sectors. He pledged to create “millions of good-paying, union jobs” for those building electric vehicles, installing wind turbines and solar panels, and those doing environmental cleanup such as capping abandoned gas wells.

Transforming the country’s energy sector is a huge undertaking, but a necessary part of combating climate change that has contributed in recent years to extreme weather events such as increases in storms and hurricanes in the East and deadly wildfires in the West.

Pittsburgh residents know a thing or two about successfully transforming an economy. Several decades ago when the steel industry collapsed and unemployment soared throughout the region, there was much hand-wringing over what the future would hold. What came about, through innovation and commitment, was an economy built on world-class medical facilities and universities, research and development in technology and reclamation of former mill sites into commercial and retail hubs.

When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized Biden’s return to the Paris Agreement on climate, he echoed the absurd claims of the previous administration, saying he cared more about the people of Pittsburgh than the people of Paris. Setting aside the fact that the multination agreement is named for the city where it was signed and not the residents thereof, he showed little knowledge or understanding of the resilience of Pittsburgh’s residents. The region’s economy rebounded and rebuilt from steel reliance while becoming better stewards of the environment.

If Biden’s plan has any hope of success, he must commit to not only job creation but also job retraining for those in the fossil fuel industries. The energy sector employs an estimated 6.7 million people nationwide, according to the National Association of State Energy Officials.

About 61% of the nation’s electric power comes from natural gas and coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and another 20% from nuclear. Only about 17% comes from wind, solar and renewable energy.

Those workers displaced by a shift to clean-energy initiatives must have a government safety net — access to retraining programs, extended unemployment benefits and reality-based hopes of new and better jobs in a refocused energy sector.

— From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board (TNS).