EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is adapted from the March 8, 2010 issue of National Review.
After declaring energy cap-and-trade “dead” in the Senate, the Left’s new favorite Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has been working hard to resurrect it under another name. Working with Senators Kerry (D., Mass.) and Lieberman (I., Conn.), along with lobbyists for the major electric utilities (and, err, Big Oil), Senator Graham appears to have come up with a new boondoggle that would institute a cap-and-trade scheme for utilities only, thereby creating a carbon cartel. The plan would impose a carbon “fee” on transportation fuels, driving up the price of gas, that would be rebated in the shape of funding for highway projects — which the Big Oil lobbyists appear to believe would help offset the rise in gas prices. All of this, of course, amounts to a new tax on energy, so Senator Graham and his cohorts are cloaking their smash-and-grab raid in the mantle of investment in “green jobs.”
This is music to the Obama administration’s ears, as the president’s enthusiasm for green jobs knows no bounds. BarackObama.com, the website of the president’s grassroots organizing group, has set out the philosophy: “America can be the 21st century clean energy leader by harnessing the power of alternative and renewable energy, ending our addiction to foreign oil, addressing the global climate crisis, and creating millions of new jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.” Last Earth Day, energy secretary Steven Chu wrote: “By providing the training that will turn 20th century blue-collar jobs into secure 21st century green-collar jobs, we are paving a pathway out of poverty; strengthening urban and rural communities; rebuilding a strong middle class; and protecting the health of our citizens and planet.”
Green jobs, it would seem, are a magic bullet for the administration, solving the problems of unemployment, poverty, community degradation (and therefore crime, presumably), class struggles, public health, terrorism, and global warming at a stroke. What could possibly lead anyone to object to them?
The answer is — as ever, for a conservative — real-world experience. Germany and Spain went down the green-jobs road many years ago, for much the same reasons as the administration. They saw it as a way to make their countries world leaders in coming technologies, provide good jobs to replace decaying industries, and insulate against energy shocks originating overseas.
It didn’t work out that way. A recent report from German think tank Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (RWI) sets out what happened in Germany. Titled “Economic Impacts from the Promotion of Renewable Energies: The German Experience,” it illustrates how the German green-jobs initiative failed to meet any of its objectives. Taking jobs first, the report concluded that although at first glance the green-jobs program had been a great success, producing 278,000 extra jobs by 2009, once one takes into account offsetting factors, such as jobs lost from increased energy prices, the net number was negligible or even negative. Moreover, the green jobs that do exist appear to depend on a robust export market, but the reality is that other nations have rapidly undercut German green-hardware prices — meaning that much of German green-energy installation simply imports cheaper foreign-produced components. The German subsidy of green energy is therefore actually subsidizing jobs in developing countries such as China. The RWI found that the subsidy per job amounted to $240,000.