The election is all wrapped up. Buck season is not far off. And soon, we will gather to find gratitude in a year that has tested us beyond recent memory. This year, I am grateful for West Virginian grit. With each turn in 2020, West Virginians have transformed to meet the challenge. While we still mourn for what was lost, COVID-19’s constraints have brought forth a wealth of innovation, be it in education or business or for spending time with a loved one. This ability to face challenges head on, rethink the norms and deliver solutions should serve as an example to our congressional leaders.
While these times are challenging, we have been handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild our economy to be stronger and more resilient than ever before. Its important West Virginia’s diverse energy workforce be part of that roadmap. Doing so will enable our state and nation to bolster our economy and create 21st century jobs for hardworking Americans who have lost theirs due to the pandemic. As the president of the West Virginia University College Republicans, I can also attest to the fact that the next generation of conservatives is eager to make clean energy a national priority. Investing in clean energy means investing in American workers, communities, and a range of industries.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, clean energy was an up-and-comer in the U.S. economy. From 2015 through 2019, the sector grew just over 10%, to support some 3.3 million American jobs by the end of 2019. These jobs ranged from renewables and energy efficiency to clean vehicles, clean fuels, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was easily the largest employer across the spectrum of energy-related occupations.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like every other industry, clean energy saw massive job losses as a result. While some jobs have returned, West Virginia clean energy workforce remains down nearly 14%. This is a loss not only for the workers, but the local economies that would benefit from economic development and increased tax revenue now more than ever.
Senator Manchin and Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, introduced the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA). The bipartisan package, which was developed over the course of a year, promotes the United States’ global competitiveness, national security and clean energy while addressing the needs of energy-producing states like West Virginia.
Clean energy all too often falls victim to labeling and false framing as a partisan issue, but Manchin and Murkowski’s collaboration shows that is off base. Both parties can and do support clean energy and its role in building out a diversified and resilient energy economy. As our country comes together after the election, both Republicans and Democrats need to work together to develop and implement pro-growth legislation that will secure America’s continued energy leadership through smart infrastructure investments that supports our clean energy workforce.
I hope our congressional delegation and state leadership, can join this bipartisan effort to secure West Virginia’s place in the nation’s energy future. This starts by getting our workers, including those in clean energy, back on the job and back to the business of securing America’s economy.
Nathan Burdette is president of the West Virginia University College Republicans.