Last night in the State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out an agenda to protect and grow America's middle class. From spurring innovation and creating high-skilled jobs here in the U.S. to protecting our homes and businesses, acting on climate change is crucial to achieving this vision.
Fueled by carbon pollution, climate change poses a serious threat to our economy. 2014 was the hottest year on record -- and as temperatures and sea levels rise, so do insurance premiums, property taxes, and food prices. The S&P 500 recently said climate change will continue to affect financial performance worldwide.
And when climate disasters strike -- like more frequent droughts, storms, fires, and floods -- low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are the hardest hit. Climate action is crucial to helping reduce barriers to opportunity that keep people out of the middle class.
That's why EPA is taking action, delivering on a key part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan with the first-ever carbon pollution standards for our nation's largest source -- power plants. When we act, we deliver the certainty companies need to drive innovation and create new jobs.
And the proof is in the numbers. U.S. solar companies grew their workforce by 22% last year. Since President Obama took office, we use three times more wind power, while solar power has grown ten-fold. And the president's proposal to offer free community college to anyone willing to work for it means we'll train thousands more workers in solar, wind and other renewable energy installations for years to come -- growing high-paying, high-skilled American jobs that can't be shipped overseas.
The American auto industry has come roaring back to life -- and it's greener than ever. President Obama visited Wayne, Michigan, earlier this month, where he spoke about his decision to rescue the floundering American auto industry in 2009, protecting millions of middle-class jobs. In exchange for the help, he demanded responsibility. Companies innovated environmental safeguards that have fueled the American auto industry's resurgence. We're now on track to double average gas mileage and cut carbon pollution from our cars in half by 2025 -- all while producing more vehicles than we have in a dozen years.
Climate action drives other transportation solutions, like high-speed rail. Earlier this month, I visited Fresno, California, for the groundbreaking of a new high-speed rail line connecting the northern and southern parts of the state. The initial phase of the project alone will create 20,000 jobs lasting at least five years -- with tens of thousands more jobs to come as the project is completed. High-speed rail travel will cut carbon pollution, smog and other dangerous pollutants -- helping residents in places like Fresno, who suffer from higher-than-average rates of asthma and respiratory illness and who are vulnerable to climate impacts.
EPA climate action also encourages energy efficiency. Existing technologies can help us use electricity more efficiently in our homes and businesses -- cutting carbon pollution and saving consumers money. Efficiency is always a win-win, because the cheapest kilowatt of electricity to generate is the one we never need in the first place.
As President Obama has made clear, the stakes are high. But when we act on climate, we embrace economic opportunity and build middle-class security. And that's an agenda every American can get behind.