Op-ed: Republicans must lead on clean energy jobs

Bottom view from inside of stand-alone exterior solar panel system with team of engineers mounting on high steel platform on bright clear blue summer sky background. Green energy production concept.

The trend among conservative voters, especially the next generation, has never been more clearly in favor of clean energy.

Our state is known for its hardworking, resilient people. Prior to being elected to the state Senate, I had the privilege of serving as a deputy commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development — and that experience showed me firsthand how a talented and dedicated workforce truly can be transformative for a state’s economy.

Today, I am heartbroken to see nearly 550,000 in our state out of work due to the pandemic. Indiana’s unemployment rate was 16.9% in April, the fifth-highest in the nation.

I know that if we support Indiana workers, they can accomplish anything. Our leaders in Washington thankfully have passed stimulus packages that offer support for those out of work; but the truth is, people do not want endless checks from the government. They want to get back to work, period.

One of the quickest ways to do that is to target growing industries that are in need. And there is one sector in need that that had been growing four times faster than Indiana jobs overall: advanced energy.

Prior to the shutdown, Indiana’s advanced energy industries employed more than 90,000 people, which is more than auto manufacturing and nearly twice as many as schools and colleges. However, a recent report found that Indiana’s clean energy sector has lost nearly 15,000 jobs in March and April due to the shutdown. But if Congress acts now and puts the right government policies into place, I’m confident those jobs can be recovered.

Job creation is a bipartisan concern. Conservatives at all levels of government increasingly recognize that commonsense, market-based clean energy policies can put Americans to work while reducing carbon emissions. This was certainly the belief of my uncle, William Ruckelshaus, who was the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Nixon and later returned under President Reagan. 

The trend among conservative voters, especially the next generation, has never been more clearly in favor of clean energy. A Pew Research Center study showed that 78% of young Republicans say the U.S. should prioritize advanced energy sources over expanding fossil fuels.

GOP leaders are listening. Indiana’s own U.S. Sen. Mike Braun has quickly risen in Republican ranks to become a leading voice on advanced energy as the founder of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. State leaders have also ensured that wind energy development can continue in Indiana so farmers can get the benefits from investments happening on their land, including royalty payments.

In a state like Indiana that is over 50% farmland and boasts nearly 5 million acres of forest, these efforts offer a conservative approach to addressing environmental challenges while helping farmers and landowners.

Indiana’s consumers also stand to gain from the transition to advanced energy solutions. For example, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) released an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in 2018 detailing its goal of retiring its coal fleet by 2028 and replacing that capacity with a combination of wind, solar, demand-side resources, and energy storage. This plan will save $4 billion for its consumers.

Major employers in Indiana are also calling for more advanced energy options, including Cummins, Salesforce, and Walmart. A recent report showed that Indiana can benefit from nearly $6 billion in investment and create 25,000 jobs if we meet the demand for renewable energy from companies with sustainability goals.

So, what must be done? This summer, Congress needs to make advanced energy part of its next round of relief legislation.

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