By U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith
Energy production in the United States had soared to new heights in recent years. Unfortunately, while vast swathes of the economy were devastated by the impact of the coronavirus, few have been hit as hard as the energy sector.
Consumption of energy plummeted as businesses closed their doors and stay at home orders kept cars off the roads and planes on the ground. This month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected a 5.7 percent drop in electricity demand for 2020 compared to 2019.
Further, Russia and Saudi Arabia opportunistically used the crisis to engage in an oil price war, putting an additional squeeze on American oil producers.
The overall effect on jobs in the energy sector was sharp. Locally, although the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified mining as an essential industry that should be kept open, reduced demand still forced some coal mines to be idled and their miners furloughed. This outcome was a terrible hardship on the families that depend on these jobs.
Those families felt the repercussions most directly, but they will not be the only ones hit. Lost jobs or cut hours also reduce the amount of money going into the economy. Idled mines, closed oil wells, and paused construction of solar installations diminish the demand for equipment used in energy production. Governments at all levels see reduced tax revenue.
Now for the good news: as the economy reopens, energy demand is likely to rise again. Smart policy decisions can make the resurgence more beneficial for jobs and the U.S. economy more broadly.
As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy, I participated in a June 16 hearing on the coronavirus’ impact on energy jobs. I used my time to highlight some essential facts about the state of the sector and recovery.
I have long believed that decisions regarding U.S. energy policy need to be made while taking the global situation into account. More demand for renewable sources in the domestic energy market does not mean that foreign countries, in particular rising economies, are in the market for the same sources.
China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, still use fossil fuels such as coal as they grow. In fact, according to a June 9 article in E&E News, an industry trade publication, China permitted more new coal-fired power plants in March of this year than it did throughout all of last year.
The United States can continue to supply these fuels to them, and we can do so with less impact on the environment than other suppliers. Developing technologies such as carbon capture to sell to the countries burning fossil fuels will help them with environmental protection and create jobs here at the same time.
American energy technology remains in demand abroad. The first foreign leader to visit President Trump at the White House since the coronavirus outbreak occurred will be the President of Poland. He said at a news conference that one topic he wants to discuss at the meeting is cooperation on civilian nuclear energy projects. When foreign countries are in the market for energy, we should encourage them to buy American.
As for the domestic energy market, demand can be invigorated by smart regulation that does not suppress economic growth.
A bill I have introduced would streamline the New Source Review permitting program, which currently discourages manufacturers and other large facilities from making upgrades that would render them more productive and, ironically, cleaner. Broadly applying this approach will encourage economic growth and the rise in energy demand that usually follows.
It is also important for the domestic market to have a diverse mix of fuels available. Having an array of fuel alternatives builds the resiliency of the power grid and contributes to lower energy bills.
Under the Trump Administration, an “energy dominance” agenda has allowed the domestic energy industry to flourish, innovate, and support the economy. Although the coronavirus inflicted great pain on this sector, our country still possesses the resources and talent that gave it such strength. I believe we can return to and even surpass those earlier heights if we act wisely now.