Angelides: Economy, Environment Can Mesh

Posted May 14, 2009 at 2:07pm

In 2003, when the Apollo Alliance was founded, it was widely held that a healthy environment necessarily came at the expense of a healthy economy. Our economic foundation still rested on the century-old principle that the more energy we used, the better off we were.

Since then, the Apollo Alliance — a national coalition of labor, environmental, business and social justice leaders and organizations — has not only

disproved this premise, it has proposed a strategy to build a vibrant clean energy, good jobs economy for the 21st century. By aggressively investing $500 billion over 10 years to scale up a new clean energy industrial sector, the U.S. can achieve energy independence, curb climate change and generate 5 million green-collar jobs.

This strategy responds to the market signals of the 21st century, which favor energy efficiency, alternatives to expensive and polluting fossil fuels, and innovation and entrepreneurship. Before the economic downturn, clean energy was the fastest-growing industrial sector in the U.S. Even Michigan, which lost more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs this decade, has produced more than 3,000 new clean energy jobs — mostly in the solar and wind industries — over the past 20 months. And nearly 100 manufacturers, including Cardinal Fastener, the Cleveland-area maker of specialty bolts for wind generators that President Barack Obama visited in January, make up Ohio’s emerging clean energy supply chain.

The White House and Congress have embraced the Apollo Alliance’s bold idea and, in the past three months, have done more to speed the transition to a clean energy economy than any government in American history. The recovery package enacted in February and the appropriations bill approved in March invest more than $100 billion to scale up wind, solar, clean fuels, next-generation vehicles, a smart energy grid, energy efficiency and transit. Obama’s recently approved budget calls for $150 billion more for clean energy development, research and green-collar job creation.

Now comes the most critical piece. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is considering a new national energy policy that, if done right, could put a cap and a price on carbon emissions and drive demand for a whole new generation of jobs in the clean and efficient energy sectors. For example, the bill’s renewable energy standard has the potential to reduce emissions, generate billions of dollars in economic activity and create about 1 million well-paid manufacturing jobs.

At the same time, the proposed policy to cap and reduce carbon emissions — arguably the single most important environmental and economic decision of the century — sets a clear national goal that can only be met by shifting how we power the nation.

With proper investments in domestic, clean energy manufacturing infrastructure, the energy bill is a once-in-a-generation chance to revive our ailing manufacturing sector and rebuild America’s middle class through high-quality, family-supporting green jobs. In fact, some of the states hardest hit by manufacturing job losses in recent decades — such as Ohio, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and California — are the ones with the most to gain from a revitalized manufacturing sector capable of making the clean and efficient energy systems that will be the backbone of the new energy economy.

But the bill won’t deliver on this economic promise without a guarantee that the components and systems of the American clean energy sector are made by American workers. America imports more than 70 percent of clean energy components — even as manufacturing plants in many states are closing. Investing in domestic manufacturing will create jobs and new revenues in these states and significantly lessen our dependence on foreign clean energy products that can and should be made in America.

Last month, the Apollo Alliance joined with industry, labor, environmental and academic leaders to propose an idea that joins 21st-century environmental and economic goals. The Apollo Green Manufacturing Action Plan lays out aggressive steps to scale up production of American-made clean energy systems and components while making U.S. factories more energy efficient. Ours is a broad-based campaign to rebuild U.S. capacity to meet the clean energy needs of the future.

We urge Congress to not simply focus the energy bill debate on the carbon cap, but to see it through the eyes of the millions of Americans who will go back to work in a new generation of clean energy manufacturing careers. Improving the energy bill to invest heavily in helping manufacturers retool their production lines and retrain workers can be a uniting principle. It also will accelerate the enormous progress that Obama and Congress are making in the transition to America’s clean energy economy.

Phil Angelides is chairman of the Board of the Directors of the Apollo Alliance. He is a principal at Canyon Capital Realty Advisors and former California state treasurer.