Despite a sharp increase in employment in the electric vehicles and renewable industries, most jobs in the fossil fuel industry continued to be lost over the past year, according to a Department of Energy report on Monday.
The 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), released on Monday, is produced annually using public labor statistics and analyzes nearly every established energy sector, from energy efficiency and power generation to automobiles, fuel production and transmission, distribution and storage.
This year’s report examines the performance of the country’s energy workers in 2021 and finds that most of them are not growing fast: Overall, jobs in the energy sector rose by 4%, with electric vehicles playing a major role. Employment in the electric vehicle industry surged 26%, while employment related to hybrid vehicles rose 20%. By comparison, electric vehicle jobs grew by just 8 percent in last year’s report.
Still, the energy industry has yet to fully recover from the blow it took at the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. By the end of 2020, more than 840,000 energy-related jobs had disappeared, the report said. By the end of 2022, less than half of all jobs (about 300,000) will reappear.
In many areas of the fossil fuel industry, the workforce has become leaner. By 2021, jobs in coal and petroleum fuels (which include mining, manufacturing, but not power generation) fell by nearly 12% and more than 6%, respectively, resulting in about 46,000 job losses. Only natural gas rebounded, with employment up 1.6%.
The decline in coal and oil jobs last year is a continuation of 2020. Coal and oil lost 15,000 jobs in 2020, while oil lost 120,318, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Before last year’s rebound, natural gas lost nearly 66,000 jobs in 2020.
In an interview with the media on Monday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasized that more than 40 percent of last year’s energy job growth came from “net-zero-aligned areas” such as electric vehicles and renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage.
“The jobs are growing in industries we need to support a 100 percent clean power sector,” Granholm said, noting “whopping” growth in Electric Vehicle jobs. “That is a key takeaway from this report.”
With fossil fuels, she said, the jobs decline “underscores the crucial nature of our investments in economic diversification and in high-quality job creation within fossil fuel communities, especially coal communities.”
“Clearly, the president has set forth a goal of getting to net zero by 2050. So there is a period of transition here. And it’s ‘net,’ so no one is suggesting that the fossil fuel industry is going to be completely eliminated even as the globe is transitioning to clean energy. We need to have supply meet demand, and that’s the bottom line, and it doesn’t at this moment, so we want to see an increase in supply. But ultimately, most predict there will be a demand curve that comes down. And this transition will happen,” she said.
The Biden administration has released two USEER reports, the first of which was released last year. The Obama administration released a report in 2015, but the Trump administration has since halted further releases. A group led by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (who served under President Barack Obama) then began work on a similar report. Under the bipartisan infrastructure law signed last year, the U.S. Department of Energy is now required to produce annual reports.
Last year’s report broadly assessed the impact of the pandemic on the energy sector, noting that by the end of 2020, jobs in the energy sector were down 10% from a year earlier.
At the time, Granholm sought to raise expectations for clean energy growth. If the Biden administration’s climate agenda were passed by Congress, it would result in “unprecedented job growth in clean energy” in 2022’s report along with “every year after that,” she said then.
Much of President Joe Biden’s agenda, including clean energy standards for electricity, has been blocked by Republicans. Job growth in many renewables in 2021 is still well below what some experts say is needed to meet the government’s goal of achieving a zero-carbon grid by 2035.
Wind energy employment rose 2.9% last year, while solar grew 5.4%. Hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal energy holdings increased by 2% to 3%, and nuclear power generation jobs fell by more than 4%.
An advocacy group, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), praised the renewable energy sector for installing a record amount of new capacity last year — a fact not mentioned in the DOE report. Energy growth is bringing “more quality jobs to more Americans,” the groups said.
In a statement, Gregory Wetstone, ACORE’s president and CEO, said that “in the face of significant COVID-19 headwinds and a largely unhelpful Administration, the renewable sector demonstrated its resilience” with its growth.
ACORE is one of several renewable energy trade groups to disagree with the government over a Commerce Department investigation into new tariffs on solar imports from four Southeast Asian countries.
Meanwhile, Electric Vehicle advocates are pleased with the report’s conclusions on battery cars.
Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emissions Transportation Association, said the massive growth in electric vehicle jobs suggests that the expanded tax incentives being discussed in Congress could drive the emergence of a larger U.S.-centric electric vehicle industry.
“This is just the front edge of what has potential to be a big boom,” he said.
USEER reports also include a new breakdown of energy worker demographics.
Across the energy sector, women made up only a quarter of the energy workforce, compared with 47 percent of the country’s entire workforce. And most industries had lower-than-average percentages of Black and Latino workers. “There are no technologies where Black workers are represented proportionally to their overall representation in the U.S. workforce,” the report said.
When it comes to clean energy, this often doesn’t change much: when it comes to wind and solar, for example, women make up only 30 percent of the workforce. Although wind and solar workers are more likely than workers in the wider economy to be unionized or represented by project work contracts, their workforces have a lower-than-average concentration of black employees.
One progressive group, Jobs to Move America, expressed concern over the patchy levels of diversity in clean energy industries, “especially for people of colour and women.”
“However, we are encouraged by the strong initiatives that the DOE has been taking to encourage companies to commit to good jobs and racial equity in U.S. clean energy infrastructure,” said Paola Rodelas, the group’s spokesperson, in an email.
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