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Inslee: Lessons From China and Oysters

It may be surprising but the oyster industry and China can teach us a thing or two about what energy policy means for the United States. The oyster shares with us how to keep the jobs we have; China shows us how to create the jobs we need.

A new study performed by scientists from my alma mater, the University of Washington, reveals new information regarding the direct connection between fossil fuels and the plight of the oyster industry.

The study found the waters in and around the Puget Sound of Washington state have become increasingly acidified, in large part because of carbon dioxide pollution that has been ejected from our smokestacks and tailpipes for the past century. The increasingly acidified waters pose a mortal threat to the oyster, because as the waters become more acidic, it becomes harder for the oyster larvae to take calcium out of the water and form its shell.

The oyster larvae crop in Hood Canal has already been reduced by 80 percent. The oyster industry is not alone, however. Much of the ocean’s plankton and pteropods, the very foundations of the oceanic food chain, are also at risk. In addition, healthy coral, which provides habitat for much of sea life, may be gone by the end of this century. The day is likely to come when these troubling developments harm our important fishing industries. Talk about a job killer.

While the oysters are an indication of how carbon is killing jobs, China is an example of how clean energy can create jobs.

China, unlike some people in the United States Senate, seems to understand where job creation in the next century will come from. The numbers are staggering. The Chinese are investing $760 billion over the next 10 years in clean energy technology. This is in line with their strategy, which they explained to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and me when we visited China in 2009, of dominating the world in clean energy innovation and production. Indeed, the Chinese are right now adding 100,000 jobs in their renewable energy industries every year. Recently the Chinese even offered an American businessman $300 million to move his manufacturing facilities to China.

To compete with China, the United States must pass and implement a comprehensive energy policy that sends the clear market signal to investors that we intend to lead the world in the next century in the job-creation machine that is clean energy. Central to that, of course, is a signed limitation on carbon pollution that will open the floodgates to investments in large and small clean energy companies.

As we look toward investments in clean energy, it is informative to look at how a few are performing today.

As the Great Recession has been at full force, the solar power industry has stood out as an indicator of domestic and world demand for clean energy, creating 27,000 new jobs from 2007 to 2009 in the United States alone while increasing revenue by 36 percent. In fact, private venture capital invested $1.4 billion in U.S. solar energy technology in 2009 alone.

The United States leads the world in wind energy production, with more than 2 percent of our electrical needs provided by turbines across the country. Beginning in 2009, wind accounted for 85,000 jobs and $17 billion in economic output.

Thanks to the clean energy investments and incentives in 2009’s Recovery Act, America is becoming a serious global competitor in the race to dominate production of electric vehicles. Prior to the passage of that legislation, the U.S. produced just 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries. America is now on pace to have 40 percent of global manufacturing capacity of the technologies that will power the cars of the 21st century and cut our oil addiction.

Impressive numbers, but they only serve as a marker of how far we have come without a national energy policy and pale in comparison to China’s commitment of resources.

So in the next few weeks, let’s hope that men and women of good will in the Senate remember what the oyster and China can teach us about energy policy. A new clean energy economy will not only protect the oyster, it will grow a new pearl in our economy — the clean energy industry.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) serves on the Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources, and Energy Independence and Global Warming committees.

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