Pittsburgh’s “Clean Energy” Cronies Can’t Hide Behind Mayor Peduto Forever

On Wednesday, President Trump appeared in Pittsburgh to discuss American energy policy and his commitment to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Following the appearance, Pittsburg’s mayor, William Peduto, issued a press release that made several claims misrepresenting the reality of American energy policy and the current state of the energy industry in Pennsylvania. Two of those claims are worth addressing here.

Claim 1: “President Trump’s remarks on energy and the Paris Agreement today underscore why the 2020 election is so important, not only for the United States but for the world.  The United States cannot officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 2020, so final action will rightly be made by the next President.”

Response: President Trump will remain President until at least January 20, 2021 and he has stated that he remains committed to removing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement in November just as he previously announced.  If we recognize that politicians are at least partially motivated by their desire to be reelected, it’s not surprising that Mayor Peduto would pair an inaccurate claim like this with an emphasis on the importance of a future election. In fact, because of the press release’s emphasis on the mayor’s policies and their support for the clean energy industry (addressed below), it’s reasonable to interpret the entire press release as the mayor simply reminding those who are dependent on those policies to vote in future elections.

Claim 2: “In Pennsylvania there are twice as many workers employed by the clean energy industry than by fossil fuel producers. There are more clean energy workers in Allegheny County than any other county in the state, including Philadelphia. The plans the City of Pittsburgh has adopted to cut carbon emissions in half are projected to add 110,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2030.”

Response: These job numbers come from E2, and a recent blog from that organization makes a similar claim: “Since 2014, Pennsylvania has increased its workforce in clean technologies like renewables, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, storage, and grid modernization by nearly 60 percent – employing now twice as many workers as the state’s entire fossil fuel industry. This recent growth over the past several years has put Pennsylvania within 4,400 jobs of overtaking Virginia as the No. 10 state in the U.S. for clean energy employment.” 

Politicians define economic success based on irrelevant metrics like the number of jobs their policies create because they need some way of convincing people that their “contributions” to economic activity are valuable. Unfortunately for Mayor Peduto, his argument only highlights how destructive his clean energy policies actually are. The purpose of economic activity isn’t to create jobs; it is to produce things that people want. Imagine if we organized economic activity in such a way where people’s labor was directed at digging ditches using spoons. This would create a lot of jobs, but no reasonable person would consider that arrangement to be ideal.

Here is a breakdown of end-use energy consumption in Pennsylvania in 2017 (the most recent year data is available): 

And here is a breakdown of the U.S. in 2018:

As you can see, while the clean energy industry might be creating a lot of jobs, the fossil fuel industry is doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to producing reliable and affordable energy that enriches people’s lives. This suggests that a great deal of these clean energy jobs exist simply to meet the guidelines of costly regulations and the state’s alternative portfolio mandate.

Mayor Peduto might argue that these jobs are in research and development and are working to produce the products of the future. That’s all well and good, but since those products have yet to pass a market test, it’s too early to say whether or not these jobs are contributing to anything productive. That leaves us to wonder why the Mayor of Pittsburgh spends time speculating about the future success of certain industries; it’s almost as if he has a vested interest in seeing them succeed.

The fact that the fossil fuel industry produces more energy with less labor is not a trivial matter. Labor is scarce and can only be allocated to solving so many problems at a time. Therefore, we should recognize that the efficiency of the fossil fuel industry is freeing up labor to supply other goods and services in order to meet the other needs of Pennsylvania’s economy. Thank you fossil fuels!

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