The COVID-19 pandemic presents our nation with a public health crisis only rivaled by the ensuing economic crisis.
Our policymakers’ initial response tactically focused on preserving jobs, limiting layoffs, and ensuring employers have the necessary cash flow to weather the current storm. Further relief should strategically broaden the scope, from recovery to revival.
For long term economic recovery and sustained future economic growth, policymakers should look to industries with strategic potential and strong multiplier effect, among these is clean energy.
Thankfully, the Florida Congressional delegation, and specifically Sen. Marco Rubio, have played a lead role in the federal response. This spring, Rubio crafted one of the most expansive federal programs in U.S. history to keep small businesses, the backbone of our economy, running. The Paycheck Protection Program kept shuttered businesses afloat and allowed employers to keep their workers on the payroll during these challenging times.
I, personally, witnessed the difference this made with the companies I represent as a business lawyer. Rubio’s leadership, in conjunction with other relief efforts, prevented our nation’s economy from being sent into a tailspin.
These legislative efforts have been critical to limiting the effects of this crisis. But now, as we look toward long-term economic recovery, a broader economic plan is necessary. The Florida delegation should again take the initiative during this important national conversation by taking steps to boost American competitiveness and our national security interest, while also future-proofing our economy.
Clean energy offers just that and more – The expansion of clean energy serves our national security interests by reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources; it helps to diversify our local economy with high-paying jobs in a growth industry, and it helps mitigate against climate-related impacts which are particularly acute on the Florida peninsula.
Fortunately, a strong foundation already exists in Florida and we have plenty of sunshine. The Sunshine State ranks fourth in the country for the adoption of residential solar technology and the solar sector employs over 10,000 workers. In total, over 165,000 workers are part of the industry—solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and more. And, policymakers – both Republican and Democrat – have made clean energy a priority. Republicans, in particular, have begun to embrace clean energy. Governor DeSantis’ recent announcement expanding the state’s electric car charging infrastructure is just the latest example. Senator Rubio, for his part, joined the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus this spring.
Unfortunately, this growing sector of the economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. More than half-a-million clean energy workers have lost their jobs, reversing the upward trend for the clean energy industry across the country. In Florida, that amounts to roughly 16% of the state’s clean energy workforce – almost 27,000 jobs.
Most importantly, we must get clean energy workers back on the job. Then, as lawmakers debate the next steps to rebuild post-COVID-19, clean energy should be one area of focus for economic recovery.
Florida’s political leadership, particularly Rubio, continues to play a crucial role in the recovery. As we move from recovery to revival, leaders have the opportunity to support clean energy, and in the process expand the pool of high-paying jobs for Floridians, boost American competitiveness and protect our national security interests.
Supporting clean energy is the type of smart policy that should earn support at all levels of government because it allows us to meet a number of our long-term challenges and sets our state on the path to a booming economy for decades to come.
Eddie Fernandez is a lawyer, political analyst and the former Orange County Clerk of Courts.