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Brown: Clean Energy Can Bolster Industry

Energy and Environment Policy Briefing

What are the prospects for passing comprehensive energy legislation in Congress this year and what will the bill likely contain?

What will the climate change debate in the House be like this year?

What is the state of our national parks and how do the health of our national parks affect the climate change debate?

What do your experiences working in the energy industry tell you about where the debate on energy policy should be headed?

Everyone knows that Ohio and the industrial Midwest have been hit especially hard by this recession. What many people don’t understand is that climate change legislation can make our region and our country stronger.

Across my state, manufacturing towns such as Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, Youngstown and Columbus are leading the way in advanced manufacturing for new clean energy technologies. Our state and our nation need this boost in manufacturing, because in important ways, manufacturing jobs anchor our nation’s middle class.

Manufacturing jobs can provide wages and benefits that enable homeownership and economic security for working families. Manufacturing jobs tend to have a strong multiplier effect on economic activity that bolsters our nation’s gross domestic product, and they are critical to supporting vital public services and schools in communities across the nation.

But clean energy policy is far more than a means of bolstering U.S. manufacturing. If we care about the world in which we live and the generations that will follow us, then we must no longer dismiss the lethal risks global warming poses to our planet. We must craft an aggressive strategy to combat global warming, and we must do it now.

And there’s yet another reason for focusing on clean energy policy. The United States cannot safely remain dependent on foreign sources of energy. We cannot break free of this dependence without getting serious about producing our own energy sources and increasing the efficiency with which we use the energy available to us.

Whether it’s reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming, increasing energy efficiency or securing U.S.-based energy sources, all of these goals underscore the importance of clean energy manufacturing. It’s important to note that such manufacturing is not a narrow sector defined by finished products such as wind turbines and hybrid engines. Current industries — such as steel, glass, aluminum and cement — are necessary for the construction of our nation’s renewable energy future. A modern wind turbine, for example, requires the same amount of steel as 250 midsize sedans.

We must not simply trade our dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign manufactured renewable energy sources. The right, clean-energy-oriented climate change policy will not only spur demand for new energy sources, but it will also put in place the foundation for these technologies to be developed and built here in America.

And what is true for manufacturing is true for all industries. Climate change legislation must ensure that the steps we take to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels does not simply shift the smoke from our stacks to those in the developing world.

Some people would say that our current economic crisis compels us to delay action on comprehensive climate change legislation. I disagree. Inaction is not an option. Capping carbon emissions can create new jobs in a clean energy economy. Without action, we face dangerous consequences. We risk the health of our citizens, the viability of our coastal areas, the productivity of our nation’s farms, forests and fisheries, and the long-term economic and national security of our country.

We can enact climate change legislation that does not needlessly pick winners and losers among regions, workers or industries. Done right, climate change legislation will improve our nation’s competitiveness by creating new jobs and developing new technologies. We must confront the twin challenges of our economy and environment with a robust and thoughtful response. And we must recognize that climate change legislation is an opportunity to rebuild our nation’s manufacturing base.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) serves on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees and chairs the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy. Brown is the author of the Green Energy Production Act and the Regional Economic Recovery Coordination Act.

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