When the Oxford English Dictionary names “climate emergency” as its 2019 Word of the Year, it’s clear that we have reached a turning point.
People can see a crisis unfolding with our climate, and they know we need bold action. We have the scientific evidence and we have the technological know-how to address this generational crisis. More than ever before, we have the support of a critical mass of Americans — young and old — who are demanding action. Unfortunately, under a government run by Donald Trump, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and their fossil fuel allies, what we don’t have enough of is the political will to take action. And unless Congress acts within the next month, we may lose an important and powerful tool for protecting the climate.
A number of clean energy tax incentives — for wind, for solar, for electric vehicles — have already begun to phase out or will begin to phase out soon, and at just the wrong time. If Congress does nothing, clean energy technologies will be dealt a blow right when we need to be engaging in a massive mobilization to transition our economy to renewable energy. Clean energy tax breaks are a down payment on the Green New Deal and will help us minimize the catastrophic damage from carbon pollution.
Fossil fuel companies have been living off tax giveaways for decades — in some cases for more than 100 years. We need to invest in our clean energy future instead of our dirty energy past. This isn’t the time to stall or backslide on the success of the booming clean energy economy. In 2019, there were 117,700 clean energy workers in Massachusetts, with 17,800 jobs in solar energy and 1,800 jobs in wind energy. Now is the time to go all-in on a bold strategy for growing jobs and manufacturing in states across the nation.
The tax credit for solar, for example, has helped that industry grow to support 242,000 American jobs and deploy solar panels at over 2 million installations. Likewise, the tax credit for wind has helped fuel the creation of more than 114,000 wind jobs in the United States, while spurring $143 billion in private investment. And the federal tax credit for electric vehicles has helped put well over a million clean cars on the road, up from virtually zero a decade ago.
We must build on these powerful economic trends to extend, expand, and update our clean energy tax incentives by passing portions of the recently introduced GREEN Act. In addition to extending tax credits for solar, expanding tax credits for burgeoning technologies like electric vehicles, energy storage, and offshore wind — an important priority for Massachusetts — will be critical to creating American jobs in new industries, help lower consumer energy costs, and protect the health of our planet.
Independent researchers have found that extending the current tax credits could achieve emissions reductions of 125 million metric tons compared with current policy. This alone could fill up to 25 percent of the gap between projected US emissions and what we have committed to in the Paris climate agreement. When the world’s top scientists are now saying we need to go much further and faster to avoid global disaster, going backward cannot be an option. According to a recent United Nations report, we haven’t even managed to stop the growth of emissions, let alone decrease them over time. Our ship is sinking, and these clean energy tax credits provide us with a way to plug some holes, while we continue working to enact an economy-wide Green New Deal.
As Democrats and Republicans in Congress seek tax policy changes before the end of the year, there is an opening to put tax laws in place that can serve as the foundation for the bold, transformative action we need to take across our economy and society to confront the existential threat of the climate crisis.
The American people are demanding action on climate, and failure is not an option. All we need now is for elected leaders to commit to ensuring that these incentives pass this year before this critical economic, public health, and innovation opportunity passes us by. We need a Green New Deal, and we need to protect and expand the clean energy gains we’ve already made.
US Senator Ed Markey is a Democrat from Massachusetts and is coauthor of the Green New Deal resolution. Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club.