Bipartisanship Is Crucial for Producing a Meaningful, Job-Creating Climate Change Bill

Posted November 2, 2009 at 5:47pm

Earlier this month, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stirred up a tempest when they announced that they could overcome their political differences and agree on the critical need for a national policy that addresses the threat of climate change and moves the United States toward energy independence. Since the publication of their opinion piece, �Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation)� in the New York Times, pundits and policy experts alike have declared the Senators� announcement a �game-changer� and possible tipping point that could lead to the passage of a bipartisan climate change bill � maybe even before the end of this year.[IMGCAP(1)] The Senators� bipartisanship should be applauded. A partnership between such unlikely allies is a crucial step toward achieving a clean energy, good jobs economy that protects and creates jobs, enhances our national security, and reduces climate-changing emissions. The climate and clean energy bill being debated in the Senate is exactly what we need to revitalize our battered economy and allow American businesses to not only compete, but lead in a low-carbon global economy.Green jobs � even in the absence of federal climate and clean energy policies � are growing at a faster rate than overall jobs. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that jobs in the clean energy economy grew nearly two and a half times faster than overall jobs between 1998 and 2007. These numbers will swell once the U.S. finally enacts national energy policies that embrace cleaner technologies. A study by the Political Economy Research Institute found that the $150 billion in annual clean energy investments that are likely to be triggered by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act could generate a net increase of about 1.7 million jobs.Even as Kerry and Graham reap their well-deserved praise, they should be challenged to go even further in developing their vision of America�s clean energy future. An important yet often overlooked sector that has significant potential to reduce greenhouse emissions and create jobs is clean energy manufacturing. About three-quarters of the total jobs created through investment in wind and solar will be in the manufacturing sector, far surpassing the number created in construction, installation and maintenance. A federal clean energy manufacturing policy would also help the manufacturing states that have been hit hardest by the current recession � such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania � to revitalize industries that have provided stable, middle-class jobs for so many citizens.Without a clean energy manufacturing policy, manufacturing jobs will likely continue to flow overseas, a problem that has dogged the U.S. manufacturing sector for decades. In fact, 70 percent of America�s clean energy systems and components � solar panels, wind turbines, energy efficiency systems and the countless parts that go into them � are already manufactured abroad. Worse yet, the jobs we are losing to our European and Asian counterparts are high-quality jobs that pay far more than service-sector jobs and often provide benefits like health insurance and retirement.How can our policymakers encourage clean energy manufacturing businesses to set up shop here and keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S., rather than sending them to China, Europe or elsewhere? The obvious first step would be to pass the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) over the summer.The bill would establish a $30 billion revolving loan fund to help small and mid-sized manufacturing firms retool, expand or establish domestic clean energy manufacturing operations and become more energy efficient. It would also provide the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership with $15 billion in federal funds over five years to help manufacturers access clean energy markets and adopt innovative, energy-efficient technologies. It is estimated that the IMPACT Act � which has been endorsed by thousands of small and mid-sized companies across America, including the National Association of Manufacturers � will create or retain 680,000 direct manufacturing jobs and nearly 2 million jobs in related industries over the next five years.The unlikely alliance of Kerry and Graham has moved us closer than ever to forging a new clean energy economy. Now we have to build on their boldness to make sure that American workers have the chance to be part of it.Phil Angelides is chairman of the board of the directors of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and businesses and environmental groups. He is a principal at Canyon Capital Realty Advisors.