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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

US researchers map the energy transition’s impact on jobs


Female engineer at work Photo: Baker Hughes
A new study in the US is aiming to highlight the impacts of the energy transition on employment in different regions of the country

Photo: Baker Hughes

New analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has shown the places in the US where jobs are most linked to fossil fuels, with the aim to help policymakers better identify and support areas affected by a switch to renewable energy.

While many of the places potentially most affected have intensive drilling and mining operations, the study also measures how areas reliant on other industries, such as heavy manufacturing, could experience changes. The research examines the entire US on a county-by-county level.  


‘Our result is that you see a higher carbon footprint for jobs in places that drill for oil, mine for coal, and drill for natural gas, which is evident in our maps,’ says Christopher Knittel, an economist at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings. ‘But you also see high carbon footprints in areas where we do a lot of manufacturing, which is more likely to be missed by policymakers when examining how the transition to a zero-carbon economy will affect jobs.’


So, while US areas known for fossil-fuel production would certainly be affected – including west Texas, the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, parts of Appalachia, and more – a variety of industrial areas in the Great Plains and Midwest could see employment evolve as well.  


Co-author Kailin Graham, a master’s student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Programme and graduate research assistant at MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, adds: ‘This approach gives us a much more complete picture of where communities might be affected and how support should be targeted.’


The study takes advantage of changes in energy supply and demand over time to estimate how strongly a full range of jobs, not just those in energy production, are linked to the use of fossil fuels. The sectors accounted for in the study comprise 86% of US employment, and 94% of US emissions apart from the transportation sector.


The US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the first federal legislation seeking to provide an economic buffer for places affected by the transition away from fossil fuels. The Act provides expanded tax credits for economic projects located in ‘energy community’ areas – defined largely as places with high fossil-fuel industry employment or tax revenue and with high unemployment. Areas with recently closed or downsized coal mines or power plants also qualify.  


Graham and Knittel measured the employment carbon footprint (ECF) of each county in the US, producing new results. Out of more than 3,000 counties, the researchers found that 124 are at the 90th percentile or above in ECF terms, while not qualifying for IRA assistance. Another 79 counties are eligible for IRA assistance, while being in the bottom 20% nationally in ECF terms.  


Map of US

Fig 1: A new map by MIT Sloan School of Management researchers shows which US counties have the highest concentration of jobs that could be affected by the transition to renewable energy

Source: MIT Sloan School of Management  

The research has found that though they may not seem like colossal differences, the findings identify real communities potentially being left out of federal policy and highlight the need for new targeting of such programmes.  


Graham adds: ‘It’s important that policymakers understand these economy-wide employment impacts. Our aim in providing these data is to help policymakers incorporate these considerations into future policies like the IRA.’  


One thing clearly showing through in the study’s data is that many US counties are in a variety of situations, so there may be no one-size-fits-all approach to encouraging economic growth while making a switch to clean energy. What suits west Texas or Wyoming best may not work for more manufacturing-based local economies.  


‘The next step is using this data more specifically to design policies to protect these communities,’ Knittel says.