Every day we flip on the lights, charge our phones, and fuel our cars without thinking twice about the industry that makes it possible: U.S. energy. This cornerstone industry of modern life and a key ingredient to America’s success is too often taken for granted. But this month, the Center for Energy and Conservation at IWF has established a National Energy Appreciation Day (NEAD) to recognize the dedicated men and women who toil tirelessly to power the nation — fueling our homes, businesses, and aspirations.
The U.S. has long been a global powerhouse in energy production and innovation. The modern energy industry largely began on August 27, 1859, when the first commercial oil well started pumping in Titusville, Pennsylvania. This engineering feat not only saved the whales hunted close to extinction to meet growing demand for whale oil to light kerosene lamps, it forever changed the trajectory of our economy and standard of living.
As the U.S. has extracted coal, oil, and natural gas more efficiently, life expectancy has more than doubled and extreme poverty rates have significantly decreased. Stable energy systems bring access to life-saving technologies like heat during the winter, water treatment, medicine, and refrigeration. In countries that do not have sophisticated energy systems, life expectancy is 10 to 20 years shorter than in the U.S. and children under five regularly succumb to preventable diseases.
Our modern energy industry also enables us to lead the world in environmental progress. Advancements in natural gas extraction that led to horizontal drilling have largely driven our world-leading emissions reductions. According to the International Energy Agency, U.S. overall reductions represent the “largest absolute decline among all countries since 2000,” which has been the case since 2019.
Modern energy is why Americans are currently breathing the cleanest air on record. Through a combination of balanced environmental regulations and market innovations like state-of-the-art scrubbers and more efficient industrial processes, the U.S. has reduced traditional air pollutants by 78% since 1970. We are also home to the cleanest drinking water in the world. And we achieved this progress without shutting industries down or putting communities out of work. Extreme environmental policies that force a false choice: between a clean environment and a growing economy enabled by cheap, reliable energy..
Energy in the U.S. is as diverse as the country. Coal, oil and natural gas make up 80% of our daily energy needs, nuclear makes up 8%, and a variety of renewables such as hydropower, biomass, wind, and solar make up 12%. In recent years, proponents of certain energy technologies have sought to undermine the growth of other energy technologies by painting them in a negative light, despite the reality that all energy resources come with tradeoffs. Instead of pitting technologies against one another, maintaining a true all-of-the-above-approach is the most prudent course as energy demand is expected to continue to grow.
The energy industry is also a source of numerous, well-paying jobs and local income. Close to eight million Americans work in the energy industry. Each job in the oil and natural gas industry generates 3.7 jobs elsewhere in the economy, ultimately supporting 10.8 million jobs across the country. From the coal mines of Appalachia to the solar fields of Arizona, energy jobs are an important source of income, productivity, and community pride. Energy work is not easy: workers often face challenging conditions, from drilling rigs in remote locations to maintaining wind turbines at staggering heights. Yet they persevere while our nation’s leaders mischaracterize their work and discount the progress they have made.
As we celebrate the progress and prosperity enabled by the U.S. energy industry, we must also recognize the need for continued innovation. Embracing emerging technologies and investing in research and development are essential steps to secure a brighter, cleaner, and more powerful future.
If you know an energy worker or run into one today, take a moment to thank them for what they do. Their dedication, resilience, and innovation create the energy we need to flourish. Their contribution is more than flipping switches or filling up the car: it sustains the very heartbeat of our society.