East Bay Times Op-Ed: Bay Area, nation must prepare for clean-energy transition

By Congressman Mark Desaulnier

Although policymakers have been attempting to shift the economy from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy for years now, the coronavirus pandemic jump-started that process.

COVID-19 travel restrictions and far fewer commuters during the pandemic have caused a major decrease in fossil fuel consumption. But the pandemic is not a blip on the radar. The energy transition is upon us, whether we’re ready or not.

Electricity generation from renewable energy in the United States is forecast to double over the next 30 years. By 2030, renewables will collectively surpass natural gas as the predominant source of generation. Meanwhile, demand for coal, oil and natural gas is expected to slow dramatically due to climate-change concerns, the cheaper cost of renewable energy and the burgeoning remote-working culture.

We have seen the real-life impacts of this shift here in the Bay Area over the last year. In August, Phillips 66 announced it would close two California plants, one in Contra Costa County, and repurpose its Rodeo refinery into a renewable fuel site. In July, Marathon announced plans to begin producing renewable diesel at its Martinez refinery, making most jobs there obsolete.

The inevitable evolution away from fossil fuels to renewable energy will benefit our society. But it must be coupled with smart policies to ensure fossil-fuel workers, communities with legacy plants and local governments are not left behind. The expedited transition away from fossil fuels increases the urgency of a planned effort to ensure that the transition works for everyone.

President Biden recently unveiled the American Jobs Plan, which calls for clean-energy manufacturing and jobs; a safe, equitable and sustainable transportation system; and a world-class transportation infrastructure, including 500,000 electric-vehicle chargers by 2030. My energy-transition initiative would help advance that plan.

The initiative is divided into three bills. The first, the Protecting Workers for a Clean Future Act, addresses the imminent market evolution to renewable energy by providing direct support to local communities, the fossil fuel workforce, environmental justice advocates and environmental groups to develop a plan for transitioning workers to meaningful, sustainable work. Refinery workers across America, and especially in the Bay Area, will fall victim to joblessness if we do not act now.

The second bill, the Jobs for a Carbon Free Transportation System Act, addresses the intersection of three of the biggest challenges our nation faces: climate change, outdated infrastructure and job insecurity. The bill invests in state-of-the-art transportation reforms that would improve mobility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing low-carbon, efficient, interconnected and smart transportation corridors — all while creating good-paying union jobs. It also supports workers to transition out of the fossil fuel industry and into meaningful, more-secure work.

The third bill, the Clean Corridors Act, would launch a federal program to accelerate expansion of electric-vehicle charging stations. It would direct $3 billion over the coming decade to construct and install infrastructure to support technologies such as hydrogen fuel cell and electric battery-powered vehicles. With this legislation, we can help sustain the growth of the EV market, which means more jobs, a healthier Earth and a strong economy.

This initiative is the result of dozens of meetings with Contra Costa stakeholders over the past several years, including fellow Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district includes refineries, local mayors, county officials, environmental activists, labor leaders, industry and university researchers.

With a calculated, thoughtful and proactive approach to the energy transition, we can ensure that no worker is left behind, our environment is protected, and our economy grows.

View the opinion editorial.