One Coal Company CEO's Salary Would Cover Solar Jobs for Coal Miners: GOP Military Budget Could Make Every Homeless Person a Millionaire
August 20, 2016
Lorraine Chow / EcoWatch & Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani / ThinkProgress
With US renewable energy growing leaps and bounds, many critics argue that a transition to clean power would leave fossil fuel industry workers without jobs. According to a new study, however, "relatively minor investment in retraining" could provide most coal workers with new, clean jobs in the booming solar energy sector. Meanwhile, the $602 billion the GOP wants for the FY 2017 military budget could, instead, be spent to make every homeless person in the a millionaire.
One Year of a Coal CEO's Salary Could Transition
US Coal Miners to Work in Solar Industry
Lorraine Chow / EcoWatch
(August 11, 2016) -- With the renewable energy sector growing leaps and bounds in the US, many critics -- ahem, Donald Trump -- argue that a transition to clean power would lead to the displacement of workers in the fossil fuel industry.
Admittedly, these naysayers are not exactly wrong. Coal workers are genuinely worried as mines close and high-profile coal companies declare bankruptcy. Coal jobs are indeed on the decline, with the total number of employees at US coal mines dipping to 74,931 employees in 2014, a decrease of 6.8 percent from the year prior.
The Obama Administration's carbon cutting policies that takes direct aim at coal plants, alongside a drop in natural gas prices are only fueling these concerns of job security.
But what if the coal industry could adapt?
In a new study published in the journal Energy Economics, researchers from Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University found that a "relatively minor investment in retraining" would allow most coal workers to switch professions to the booming and job creating solar energy sector.
"Our study found that this growth of solar-related employment could benefit coal workers, by easily absorbing the coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years and offering full-time careers," Joshua Pearce, the study's co-author and associate professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University, wrote in Harvard Business Review.
#Solar Is Creating Jobs Nearly 20 Times Faster Than Overall US Economy
… @solarfound @IKEAUSA @solarcity @SEIA
7:01 AM - 15 Jan 2015
The investment would cost between $180 million to $1.8 billion to switch the vast majority of US coal miners to solar jobs, based on best and worst case scenarios, the authors estimated.
In the best case scenario, employees who have non-coal specific positions, such as secretary and electrician, could find jobs outside of the PV industry. In the worst case scenario, all employees in coal mining will be absorbed into the PV industry.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that a coal CEO's annual salary would be more than enough money to retrain every company employee to work in solar, as Green Tech Media explained from the study:
The study noted that the CEO of Consol Energy earned about $14 million in 2012, more than enough to retrain all of the company's employees for jobs in the PV industry. Arch Coal, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, paid its executives and directors more than $29 million in the year leading up to its bankruptcy filing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Here's how the team came to the study's conclusion, as Pearce explained:
Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we looked at all current coal industry positions (from engineers to mining and power plant operators to administrative workers), the skill sets required for each (for example, specific degrees and amount of work experience), and their respective average salaries. For each type of coal position, we determined the closest equivalent solar position and salary.
For example, an operations engineer in the coal industry could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase.
Similarly, explosive workers, ordinance handlers, and blasters in the coal industry could use their sophisticated safety experience and obtain additional training to become commercial solar technicians and earn about 11 percent more on average.
Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage (e.g., janitors in the coal industry could increase their salaries by 7 percent by becoming low-skilled mechanical assemblers in the solar industry).
In general, we found that after retraining, technical workers would make more in the solar industry than previously in coal. However, managers and particularly executives would make less.
The paper found four ways to fund "coal to solar job" training:
* Coal workers fund their own retraining
* Coal companies pay for retraining of their own workers
* Individual states provide "coal to solar" transition programs
* The federal government funds retraining
The study noted that the second option would only cost 5 percent of coal company's revenue from a single year to provide "solar scholarships" to workers. Companies would also have the feel-good factor of taking care of their workers while diversifying their energy portfolios at the same time.
From a public and environmental health perspective, switching from a polluting energy source to clean, green solar would improve worker health and be better for the planet.
As EcoWatch mentioned previously, coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country's emissions and collectively constitute the nation's single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.
Naturally, this study paints a very optimistic view that a coal CEO or an entire industry would want to make such drastic changes. Green Tech Media pointed out that it would be an impressive feat to convince coal companies or government bodies to take up the study's suggestions -- especially for industry-backed politicians who promote coal as a political platform.
#Trump Promises an 'Energy Revolution': Roll Back Env Regs, Bolster Coal Industry & 'Cancel' Paris Agreement
6:36 AM - 9 Aug 2016
Additionally, as Green Tech Media mentioned, workers who live in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, which do not have robust solar markets, would be forced to move to a different, solar-friendly state. Training employees for some solar-specific jobs would also require a new degree and several years of study.
However, as Pearce noted, "The writing on the wall for the coal industry is clear."
"Price pressure from natural gas, wind and solar has been relentless," he wrote. "Increasingly stringent environmental regulations to curb pollution continue to raise the costs of coal, and public perception of the industry continues to fall. The growing threat of liability due to inherent greenhouse gas emissions that come from coal combustion may climb to the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Young coal workers, in particular, should consider retraining for a job in solar now."
On that note, Hillary Clinton, who has no plans to reverse's President Obama's climate mandates, has called for a $30 billion initiative to revive coal country partly through clean job transitions.
And, in a speech Thursday in Michigan said, "Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century and create millions of jobs and businesses. It's probably going to be either China, Germany or America. I want it to be us!"
The Republicans' Military Budget Could Make Every Homeless Person in America a Millionaire
Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani / ThinkProgress
(May 21, 2016) -- Last year, the United States spent more than $596 billion on the military, a total greater than the next six countries in the world combined. But the Republican-controlled Congress is looking to increase that number for next year.
On Wednesday, the House passed its version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), allowing for $602 billion to be spent on the country's defense in 2017, but the way the money is budgeted could mean that total military spending could actually end up being far higher.
Under the bill, $18 billion would be moved from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is currently used primarily to fund operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, to the general budget to be used for additional troops and equipment.
As Politico reported, this would likely leave enough money for such operations only through April, forcing the next president to request additional funding. Thus, the House bill would effectively increase the total military expenditure for next year.
The White House has also noted that this breakdown could leave less money for US war-fighting, making it more likely that additional funds will be needed halfway through 2017.
In a 17-page statement released on Monday, the White House said that Obama's senior advisers would tell the president to veto the current bill, calling it a "gimmick" that gambles with war funds and risks the safety of US troops.
The statement also pointed to other flaws in the bill, including the prohibition on the use of any of the funds to shut down Guantanamo Bay or transfer the detainees currently held there. (A similar prohibition was included in the 2016 NDAA, which despite objections, Obama eventually signed.)
According to figures by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States doesn't just spend more than the next six countries combined, but it also spends more than double the next biggest military spender in the world, China.
As the House looks to increase that number, here's a breakdown of just some of the other ways that enormous sum could be spent:
Buy Every Homeless Person A $1 Million Home
In January 2015, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found there were 564,708 homeless people on a given night in the United States. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, one of the best ways to end homelessness is to make more permanent housing available.
Last year, a HUD study found that giving families permanent subsidies, like a housing choice voucher, is more effective in preventing homelessness than other interventions, like short-term rental assistance or temporary housing. It also helps keep families together.
A 2014 study from the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness estimated that it cost the state over $31,000 each year for each chronically homeless person, compared to just $10,000 to provide them with permanent housing, job training, and health care.
Using those findings, ending homelessness in the United States would likely require less than 1 percent of next year's military expenditures. The government could even purchase a $1 million home for every homeless person in the United States with the budget, and it would still have money leftover.
Help Those Fleeing War
Today's refugee crisis is the worst the world has seen since World War II, and the United Nations estimates that there are nearly 60 million refugees seeking safety.
But compared to other countries in the world, the United States has taken in a depressingly low number of refugees fleeing conflict. Last year, Canada accepted 25,000 refugees from Syria specifically in just four months -- but it took the United States five months to accept only 841.
That number is especially embarrassing, considering that US GDP is nine times greater than that of Canada, and far greater than countries in the Middle East that have taken in millions of refugees.
There isn't an easy way to break down the costs per refugee resettled in the United States, but in the last fiscal year, the US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) -- which helps settle refugees and provides them with resources like medical services and job training -- had a budget of $1.65 billion, less than half a percent of the expected military budget for next year.
An added bonus is that while there are costs to refugee resettlement, research from around the world has shown that accepting refugees has a positive (or simply a neutral) effect on a host country's economy and wages. One reason for this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that there is a high rate of entrepreneurship among refugees.
"There's not any credible research that I know of that in the medium and long term that refugees are anything but a hugely profitable investment," Michael Clemens, a senior fellow leading the Migration and Development Initiative at the Center for Global Development, told the Washington Post last fall.
Fix US Infrastructure
US infrastructure is in shambles. A report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated that from 2016 to 2025, there will be a funding gap of over $1.4 trillion for things like surface transportation, water, electricity, airports, and waterways and ports.
If this gap isn't addressed, ASCE estimated that each US household would lose $3,400 in disposable income each year during that time period. This cost comes from things like inefficient roadways, congested airports, and electricity grids and water systems that won't be able to keep up with demand.
In February, Obama included a $35 billion per year clean transportation plan in his budget request, to be funded by a $10 per barrel tax on oil and phased in over five years. It was shot down immediately by the Republican-controlled Congress -- which is now pushing forward a bill that will likely increase military spending in 2017.
While next year's military budget can't solve all of US infrastructure problems, even a little bit could go a long way.
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