As summer winds up, most Alaskans wonder whether there are enough fish, berries, jam and wild game in the freezer to last through the winter. As a representative of skilled workers in construction trades, I ask myself, “does our state have enough construction projects to employ people through the next year?”
As Congress reconvenes after the August recess, Alaskans will turn to our delegation for some answers in response to the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People need jobs, our infrastructure needs rebuilding and we need to ease the effects of climate change.
We can begin to address these needs and more if Congress brings forward and passes a major infrastructure bill that includes clean energy, and the time to do this is now.
It was shocking when BP announced it was leaving Alaska after 60 years in the oil extraction business here, but what was more surprising was the announcement that BP is completely overhauling its business model from oil giant to clean energy. According to BP’s website, the strategy involves major investments into renewable energy generation, electric vehicle charging points, bioenergy, hydrogen and carbon capture and an overall goal of net-zero emissions and low carbon investment. This is definitely not business as usual, and it is exactly what this country wants to be doing right now.
In the past, there was a pattern where Alaska and the others states got priority projects on a list then worked to get them funded by Congress. These are projects our state and country need to function like roads, highways and interstates, tunnels, airport runways big and small, bridges, boat harbors, shipping docks and cargo cranes, bike commuter trail systems, dam repairs and flood control, clean water delivery systems, street lights and stop lights, telecommunications and electrical grid upgrades, railroad train track, signal, bridge and communications systems and more.
The trouble is, funding for infrastructure has not kept up, creating a backlog of projects and the economic disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. Much of Alaska and the nation’s transportation infrastructure was built during the post-World War II era and has far exceeded a 50-plus year lifecycle. In addition, technology has changed and the demand for renewable, responsible replacements for legacy systems has taken hold.
Maybe the upside to being over $836 billion behind in infrastructure investment nationwide is that now attitudes have shifted and the reality that we must build things better, smarter and more energy efficient has set in. While the U.S. has been lagging, industry, such as BP, has figured out a way to do this next round of projects the right way with renewable, clean, efficient and high-tech methods of energy delivery.
The good news is that our workers in Alaska are trained and ready to do what it takes. Through apprenticeship programs we reach, recruit and train high school students, military veterans plus women and men from across Alaska who seek a good job with benefits and high safety standards.
Where President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal brought relief, reform, and recovery from the Great Depression, a clean energy revolution can be the New Deal of this century, putting people to work and businesses back in business while addressing the climate issues ravaging our country. Congress has passed three relief packages this year, totaling more than $2 trillion, to address the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. But no funding has been specifically designated for capital projects. Congress can help lessen economic impact by passing an infrastructure investment bill now.
Alaska is rich in renewable energy resources. As of 2018, 30% of our states electricity generation came from renewable energy and the goal is 50% renewable energy by 2025.
By the end of 2020, I don’t want to ask myself if we have enough construction jobs to employ people for a year. I want to know we have enough jobs and projects to support a generation and mitigate more damage to the planet. We have a highly skilled and trained workforce ready to build it, now we need the projects!
Dave Reaves is the business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547.