Investments in clean energy — such as those encouraged by the American Clean Energy and Security Act — would produce several times as many jobs as the same amount of money spent on traditional fossil fuels, according to new studies released Thursday by a coalition of environmental groups and research institutes.

Lower-income Americans in particular would benefit, according to a report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Green for All.

Upgrading the U.S. economy to rely less on fossil fuels would create a surge of manufacturing and construction jobs that would include renovating homes and buildings to be more energy efficient, tapping clean energy sources such as wind and solar to produce more electricity, and building better transit systems and other infrastructure improvements.

“For a generation, this is the great opportunity in our economy: rebuilding our energy infrastructure,” said PERI’s Robert Pollin at a news conference Thursday morning.

A separate report produced by the Center for American Progress and released jointly Thursday found that a $150 billion annual investment in clean energy could create a net increase of 1.7 million American jobs and significantly lower the national unemployment rate.

Clean energy investments take dollars that would be spent on energy from overseas and instead invest that money in local, homegrown energy sources and improvements in energy efficiency, which saves homeowners and businesses money, said Bracken Hendricks, a CAP fellow.

That’s why clean energy investments create more than three times as many jobs as the equivalent investment in traditional fossil fuels, he added.

The bottom line, said NRDC executive director Peter Lehner, is that the United States will spend trillions of dollars on energy over the coming decades, in one sector or another.

“It will spend that money stupidly, or it will spend it smart,” Lehner said. “If we spend it well, it will have tremendous impacts throughout the economy.”

That’s especially true for people with lower levels of education, according to the NRDC and Green for All report. It found that about half of the 1.7 million new jobs created by a $150 billion investment in clean energy would be available to workers with a high school degree or less, providing opportunities to lift low-income workers out of poverty.

The study confirms that a “non-polluting economy” provides more opportunities for people of color and people in urban areas, said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All.

NRDC’s Lehner added that “the two reports provide solid evidence why we need to move forward”  by encouraging Congress to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which is expected to be considered soon by the House. He added that the studies show that opponents of the bill — who raise the specter of economic losses if it’s enacted — “have no facts to support them.”

Although ACES is not perfect, Lehner said, it’s a starting point for capping global warming pollution and investing in clean energy — and the need for clean energy investments and the resulting benefits to the U.S. economy have never been clearer.

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