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• The WVU study in question concluded that, if enacted, a combination of President Joe Biden’s plans for clean energy and proposals backed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could boost employment in West Virginia by more than 20,000 jobs.
• However, that’s the highest estimate in a range provided in the WVU study, and over half the projected jobs are indirect — not in clean-energy manufacturing.
• In addition, the enactment of Biden’s proposal is far from a certainty, given slim Democratic margins in Congress.
As the Biden administration pulls out all the stops to promote passage of its infrastructure proposals by Congress, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made a late-night cable news appearance to sell parts of the plan.
In a Sept. 8 appearance on CNN, Granholm was asked by host Don Lemon about negotiations between the administration and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is a pivotal vote on almost every piece of legislation in an evenly divided Senate. Manchin is widely considered the Senate’s most moderate Democrat, and his state backed Donald Trump over Joe Biden by a wide margin in both 2016 and 2020.
In her CNN appearance, Granholm touted clean-energy proposals that could boost the economy in West Virginia, a state that has long been reliant on the coal industry and is now experiencing pressure to shift its economy toward clean energy.
"West Virginia University just came out with a study that showed that there will be almost 20,000 jobs created in clean energy in West Virginia if these bills are passed, if the ‘Build Back Better’ agenda is passed," Granholm said. ("Build Back Better" is one of the branding labels used by Biden to describe his agenda during the 2020 campaign.)
We can’t verify a prediction of future job growth, but we can verify whether Granholm correctly cited the WVU study in question. Does it say that Biden’s agenda could bring 20,000 jobs to West Virginia? Basically, yes — but there are some caveats.
The report Granholm was referring to was written by researchers at West Virginia University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, her office confirmed to Politifact West Virginia.
In August 2021, the center published "West Virginia’s Energy Future: Build Back Better," an analysis of proposed clean-energy legislation as well as Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
The researchers looked at Biden’s call for a "path to achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035" as well as a 10-year extension of clean-energy tax incentives.
Their modeling shows that this would add 3,508 full-time jobs to the West Virginia economy and produce $20.9 billion of investment in new power plants in the state by 2040.
The remaining jobs to reach 20,000 would come from a bill sponsored by Manchin, the American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act. This measure proposes $8 billion in tax credits and carves out specific credits for communities affected by the decline of the coal industry.
Manchin’s proposal, the researchers projected, would create between 12,550 and 16,750 jobs in clean-energy manufacturing as well as indirect spending from the investment. The tax credits are estimated to generate $1.7 billion of investment in energy manufacturing in West Virginia towns where coal plants or coal mines used to be.
The researchers say the two proposals taken together are the type of federal reinvestment necessary to ensure West Virginia’s role in the renewable-energy economy.
"Sen. Manchin’s proposal is sort of the detailed legislative proposal for what Biden has put in the American Jobs Plan," said Tim Cronin, energy fellow at the center and one of the authors of the report. "And then he got a portion of it into the bipartisan package that the Senate already passed. Now they're looking at getting the balance of it into" an even larger spending measure known as the reconciliation bill, he said.
Taken together, the 3,508 projected jobs from the Biden plan plus 16,750 projected jobs from the Manchin proposal would slightly surpass the 20,000 figure cited by Granholm.
"I think that’s pretty close to hitting the nail on the head," Cronin said of Granholm’s claim.
But there are a few important caveats.
First, getting to 20,000 requires using the top figure in the range provided for Manchin’s bill. If the figure at the lower end of this range is used instead, the number of jobs would be about 16,000, about 20% lower than what Granholm cited.
Second, the researchers projected that between 9,300 and 12,400 jobs gained — a majority of the total — would be created "indirectly" from the manufacturing investment. This means they would stem from economic activity that flowed from the manufacturing investments.
By this logic, workers at an industrial facility created by the bill would spend money at the local grocery store, go out to dinner, see movies and more. But economic development experts warn that indirect job creation is hard to measure and may not materialize. And these jobs are not "in clean energy" per se, as Granholm indicated on CNN.
Finally, it’s important to note that these are proposals, and thus are not guaranteed to make it into law. In fact, as Granholm was appearing on CNN, Democrats faced major challenges in unifying the party’s moderate and progressive wings and members of the House and Senate behind the various pieces of legislation.
Granholm said, "West Virginia University just came out with a study that showed that there will be almost 20,000 jobs created in clean energy in West Virginia if (President Joe Biden’s) agenda is passed."
An analysis by WVU researchers did project that a combination of the Biden and Manchin proposals would create up to 20,000 jobs if enacted. One of the study’s authors characterized Granholm’s recap of the report’s finding as fair.
However, Granholm use of the word "will" suggests greater certainty than is warranted. She also used the top figure from a range of possible job gains, and a majority of these gains would come from indirect economic activity that can be hard to predict and would not be specifically in clean-energy manufacturing.
We rate this claim Half True.
West Virginia’s Energy Future Build Back Better, Tim Cronin, West Virginia University Center for Energy and Sustainable Development
Phone interview with Energy Fellow at the West Virginia University Center for Energy and Sustainable Development Tim Cronin, Sept. 13, 2021
White House, American Jobs Plan, March 31, 2021
Email interview with Department of Energy spokesperson Kevin Liao, Sept. 13, 2021
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