Their Opinion: Vermont is on track to create new jobs in new industries

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Whether the United States participates or not, it is clear that the Paris Climate Accord has brought the world to the doorstep of a new era of energy production and consumption. At least, we can hope that is the case.

With the imperatives of climate change in mind, President Barack Obama pushed for the package of tax incentives that have helped usher in a whole new sector of the economy — renewable energy. President Donald Trump may have turned his back on the Paris accord, but the economy is likely to continue on its new trajectory.

Vermont is on that trajectory. Former Gov. Peter Shumlin used to boast the new energy economy has created 16,000 jobs in Vermont. That is not a figure to scoff at. These jobs include people in the solar industry who are erecting and maintaining the solar arrays proliferating across the state. They include builders retrofitting structures for energy efficiency and conservation. They include workers in companies connected to the wind power industry.

Gov. Phil Scott has pledged that Vermont would carry on as if it belonged to the Paris Climate Accord, meaning that Vermont will be allied with all the nations of the world except Syria, Nicaragua and the federal government of the U.S. It means Vermont will be allied with forward-thinking states, such as California, New York, Washington and Massachusetts.

The new energy economy is not just a niche. It is everywhere. A story in The Washington Post described how North Carolina, a state that voted for Trump, has witnessed the creation of more than 9,500 jobs in the solar industry. Across the nation 370,000 people work in the solar industry, compared to about 51,000 in coal.

The Post story described the thinking of a solar panel installer in Charlotte, North Carolina, who makes about $20 per hour. He did not complete college, and his solar job provides him a satisfying form of labor that could lead to additional training as an electrician. It is a job with a future that responds to the demand for renewable energy created by the continuing advance of climate change. The solar worker voted for Trump, but now worries that Trump's policies will hurt him economically.

Trump's infatuation with coal appears to grow out of a politically opportunistic exploitation of a myth about working America. Holding up coal miners as hard-working exemplars of American virtue allows the nation to overlook the economic and environmental exploitation of the rural regions where coal mining is dominant. If coal mining is such a great tonic for the American economy, why is West Virginia so impoverished? Coal miners themselves make a decent wage, but they also suffer coal-induced diseases that kill them. The national memory may hold dear an era when coal from Appalachia fueled the steel mills of Youngstown and Pittsburgh, but many of those mills are gone.

The Trump administration is so desperate to tout coal that Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was spewing falsehoods over the weekend about the purported revival of coal jobs. By conflating oil industry jobs and coal jobs, he was able to say that 50,000 jobs had been added, though virtually none were from coal mining.

The rest of the nation need not remain wedded to the mythology the Trump administration has used to justify its senseless abandonment of the Paris accord. Vermont now is free to join forces with the rest of the nation — including states like North Carolina that make up so-called Trump country — in promoting renewable power and energy conservation.

Republican policymakers have been left in the dust. Faced with policies promoted by Obama that have actually succeeded, they are left with fantasies about coal (or myths about the advantages of repealing Obamacare). Vermont's governor is a different sort of Republican, and if he carries out his promises to adhere to the Paris framework, he can show that it is possible for Republicans to forge a different path than the one promoted by their party's mythmakers.



— The Rutland Herald


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