Politics

Carbon Capture and Labor Loss

A big topic of discussion is climate change. There is a considerable amount of controversy on this topic. Some people declare this as a global crisis, while others do not believe that climate change exists. Regardless of the public opinion, our country has taken initiative to act upon climate change by developing policies that will improve our economy through environmentally-friendly ways. 

On February 6, 2020, the House Committee of Energy and Commerce discussed H.R. 1166 or also known as “Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act”  (USE IT Act). This bill proposes the utilization of direct carbon capture technology through the implementation of pipeline construction, carbon storage facilities and new processes that will use captured carbon to create cement, concrete and other manufacturing resources. In addition, the witnesses of the hearing addressed other issues that the USE IT Act should include in its proposal. For instance, the Senior Climate Campaigner of Greenpeace USA, John Noel believes the bill needs to clarify its safety measures of the long-term carbon storage facilities, should not be prioritizing pipeline construction funding and should create mandatory standards for companies to report their carbon usage. In addition, Executive Director of Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, Jason Begger said the proposal needs to recognize the geological and environmental barriers when building the pipelines in the midwest states. With their comments into consideration, the committee hopes to reform the current policies of the Clean Air Act and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

As with anything, there comes the cost of investing into research and development of carbon capture. These investments call for costs of $35 million in direct carbon capture and $50 million in utilization of research and development. In addition to the financial costs, it comes with more responsibility for the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor the storage facilities holding the carbon. It would also require support from the federal government to standardize the importance of carbon capture technology. Along with the committee’s goal to gain the federal government’s acknowledgement on this issue, they are looking to eliminate power plants across the U.S. This elimination will reduce the carbon footprint, but it will also negatively impact our overall labor market. 

The Government Affairs Director of AFL-CIO, Lee Anderson, was a witness and commented on this potential labor market consequence. Anderson makes it clear that carbon capture technology is essential to our economy and environment. However, he recommends that the USE IT Act should include protections for laid-off  power plant workers. He said if the protections are not guaranteed, there needs to be a development of clean and efficient advancements in the power plants so there is a reduced risk of unemployment. Anderson supports his argument by referencing the negative effects of two power plants that shutdown in Ohio. The shutdowns caused a decrease in tax revenue, job loss and led to closures of schools and businesses. 

Although there are concerns of job loss in the power plant industry, Congressman Darren Soto recalls on the fact that carbon capture technology will issue new jobs pertaining to managers of the carbon storage facilities, manufacturers to create the carbon-infused concrete and cement and the need for pipeline construction workers. Specifically, Soto brings up the “Moving Forward Framework” which was recently passed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The “Moving Forward Framework” is an investment of $760 billion dollars to fix current infrastructure, as well as funding for new infrastructure projects that are both economically beneficial and carbon-reducing (The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, 2020). The legislation also plans to create over 10 million new blue-collar jobs that include opportunities for workers to create carbon-infused concrete and cement. Carbon capture technology would progress the framework’s goals and resolve Anderson’s job loss concern, however, there is a deeper issue underlying the opening of new blue-collar jobs.

To put it simply, there are not enough skilled workers to fulfill these new positions. According to a report conducted by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, researchers predicted a 2.4 million labor shortage of manufacturing jobs (Wilkie, 2019). With this in mind, the USE IT Act should be taking this into consideration. If this issue is not addressed, the investment of both the USE IT Act and “Moving Forward Framework” will be at loss.

References:

Wilkie, D. (2019, February 6). The Blue-Collar Drought. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/the-blue-collar-drought.aspx

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure . (2020) Moving America and the Environment Forward: Funding Our Roads, Transit, Rail, Aviation, Broadband, Wastewater and Drinking Water
Infrastructure. Retrieved from https://transportation.house.gov/imo/media/doc/Moving%20Forward%20Framework.pdf

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