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  1. Opinion

Ending the myth of the environment versus the economy | Column

David W. Cash writes that environmental progress can help the economy.

Vice President Joe Biden’s recently released climate plan was challenged by President Trump at the Republican National Convention, asserting it would be “laying waste to the economies” of states across the nation.

David W. Cash is the Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the Univ—ersity of Massachusetts Boston, and a former commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts. [ Courtesy of David W. Cash ]

It is a claim that is heard in the halls of Congress and in town halls across the country. And sure, there are times when tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic development are real.

But in the decades since the environmental movement was born, example after example, program after program, law after law have shown that protecting the environment can drive economic growth. This is especially true in the transition to clean energy.

Just ask a solar installer in Orlando, a home energy auditor in Pittsburgh, a wind turbine maintenance worker in Texas, a farmer using solar for irrigation pumping, or homeowners and business people in rural and urban communities with much smaller energy bills because of energy efficiency programs. There are now twice as many jobs in the energy efficiency sector as there are in all fossil fuel sectors combined.

Biden’s climate plan seizes these kinds of opportunities that marry economic growth with keeping our air and water clean and our climate stable, and it will do it with an eye toward helping the most vulnerable communities hit hardest by the current economic crisis.

The plan is comprehensive, but there are a few core pieces that will drive job growth, tap into American technological innovation, create energy cost savings for consumers, while addressing the climate crisis.

The $2 trillion investment over four years outlined in the plan will spur clean energy growth and reap a return of millions of jobs. We are in the midst of the biggest spike of unemployment since the Great Depression, and his Build Back Better strategy will invest in a 21st century energy infrastructure, not shore up a 20th century system.

Fossil fuels built this country into the global economic leader that it is. But we are paying a steep price for its environmental impact in terms of health costs, flooded cities and crops, and wildfires. Fossil fuels' time has passed, and the $2 trillion will go a long way to installing wind and solar, making buildings smart and efficient, and protecting workers and helping communities transition to this new economy.

The plan also focuses on transportation, now the leading greenhouse gas emitting sector. Compared to any other industrialized country, our public transit systems are inadequate with crumbling infrastructure. One ambitious goal of the plan is to provide state-of-the-art zero emissions transit in all municipalities with populations over 100,000 (that’s over 300 cities and towns in the United States).

Other transportation policies will drive a resurgence in American car development and manufacturing, making electric vehicles and other clean vehicles not just the standard, but the desired vehicles that families, contractors, truckers and fleet operators demand.

The United States has lagged in financing energy research and development. Biden’s plan seeks to reverse that, investing in innovation and entrepreneurship. Oddly, for a competitive business person, President Trump has seemed content to cede the clean energy innovation arena and global market to China, India and Germany. Deep investments in energy research and development will bring the United States back to global energy leadership.

For each of these parts of the plan that drive investments in clean energy, it is a win-win: Jobs grow in urban and rural America, and we solve the most daunting environmental challenges of our time.

Biden’s climate plan creates the opportunity to have economic growth and environmental protection at a scale we have not seen before. And that is no myth.

David W. Cash is the Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the Univ—ersity of Massachusetts Boston, and a former commissioner in the Department of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection in Massachusetts.

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