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Nithin Coca headshot

Report: Clean Energy and Efficiency Can Cheaply Replace Coal

By Nithin Coca

A new report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) merely quantifies what is becoming increasingly apparent to all – except a few important folks in Washington D.C.

Coal usage in the United States has been falling steadily, if not dramatically, for several years. Now, as rumors grow that the Clean Power Plan is likely on the chopping block in our nation's capital, NRDC's latest report shows just how big of a folly it would be to abandon policies that promote clean energy – not only for the environment, but also for our economy and the very jobs President Donald Trump claims to want to bring back.

“The shift away from coal, and the ongoing retirement of aging coal plants, presents our country with an historic opportunity,” Starla Yeh, a senior policy analyst in NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air Program, said in a press release. “The U.S. is perfectly positioned to lead a global transition to clean energy, modernize its electricity grid, enlist tens of thousands of Americans in new efficiency and clean energy jobs—and help protect the planet from climate devastation.”

That last part – jobs – is key. One of the reasons Donald Trump won in nearly every coal-producing state is his promise to re-open coal mines and end what he called former President Barack Obama's “war on coal." But the truth is, if jobs are what matters, then we need to focus even more on clean energy, because that is where any potential for future job growth lies.

In fact, the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks jobs in the solar industry, found that solar alone accounted for 1 in 50 new American jobs this past year, a astounding 25 percent growth from the previous year. That's 17 times faster than the overall economy.

“With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, said in a press release. And that doesn't even take into consideration jobs in other clean-energy industries, such as wind, geothermal or energy storage.

As for coal? It is not only dirty but expensive, and it can't compete with solar anymore, even at record low prices. Other countries have gotten the message, as India, China and Vietnam are all shifting away from coal years ahead of schedule. Coal jobs are few, and getting fewer. We should help those in the industry to transition to clean-energy jobs, not give false promises about a “return of coal.”

While states and cities can make progress on their own, a strong, coherent national policy is crucial to the widespread adoption of clean energy. That is why so many were happy to see renewable energy tax credits extended last year. If Trump goes ahead and cancels the Clean Power Plan (which, as data from the Carbon Tax Center shows, has already accomplished many of its goals), it will send the wrong signal to the energy industry, deter investment and allow other countries to leapfrog us on the path toward a clean-energy future.

The science, data and reality is on our side: Coal isn't coming back, no matter how hard the climate deniers in D.C. try to revive it. It's time to move on.

Image credit: Tafe Sa Tonsley via Flickr

Nithin Coca headshot

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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