Energy Bill means good jobs for Ohio

Toledo Blade - September 12, 2010

by Wendy Patton, Sara LeTourneau and Shanelle Smith, in The Toledo Blade 

Effective climate legislation would give America a safer, more secure, and more balanced portfolio of energy sources while fostering new markets for new products. Northwest Ohio could be a big beneficiary.

A measure sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) would set a market-based cap and price on carbon pollution. That would boost demand for clean energy and encourage greater energy efficiency in our homes, offices, stores, and factories, and on our roads.

The eight Ohio counties that surround Toledo host 464 manufacturing firms, with more than 66,000 employees, that could, with retooling, add advanced energy products to their portfolios. New demand for clean-energy products such as wind turbines, solar panels, biomass pumps, and coal sequestration technologies could offer new manufacturing opportunities to these firms, helping them keep and create jobs.

The Toledo area already is capitalizing on such opportunities. About 6,000 people work in the solar industry locally. Another 6,700 workers make products designed to enhance energy efficiency in buildings.

Still, these nascent sectors have the potential for far greater growth. Climate legislation can revive our sagging economy by creating jobs across the country.

Done wrong, however, these jobs could go to other countries. Seventy percent of America’s clean-energy parts and systems are manufactured abroad. The proposed climate legislation would make progress toward keeping these jobs at home, but not enough.

The measure would expand funding for two important investment initiatives that deal with advanced energy manufacturing and clean vehicles. But it does not include long-term support for domestic manufacture of clean technologies like that provided by China and Germany – America’s competitors in the race to lead the clean- energy economy.

That’s why we also need legislation sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio). His bill would level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers by setting aside $30 billion to create state revolving-loan funds that would help small-and medium-sized companies retool their facilities for clean-energy production. Policy Matters Ohio estimates that Sen. Brown’s bill could create as many as 52,000 manufacturing jobs in Ohio over 10 years.

The climate and clean-energy bill passed by the House last year includes similar provisions, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of several members of Ohio’s congressional delegation. Those provisions belong in the Senate climate bill as well.

The Senate also must ensure that jobs created by the measure pay family-supporting wages and provide health and retirement benefits. The bill needs border adjustments to prevent American producers from being undercut by polluting nations. Products of nations that do not control pollution should not have a price advantage over nations that do.

Under proposed legislation in both houses of Congress, polluting nations would pay for carbon emissions generated in the production of their exports. But such provisions in the Senate bill would not take effect for a dozen years. Border adjustments need to take effect long before that, to decrease pollution and prevent more jobs from going to polluting countries.

Our debilitating dependence on dirty foreign oil is a major reason that America needs comprehensive clean-energy and climate policies. Our sputtering economy and jobless recovery are others.

It is the job of government to create and enforce economic policies and programs that promote prosperity, while setting safeguards to prevent calamities like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the disaster in West Virginia that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build 21st-century industries and create jobs that will put Americans back to work.

It is time to move toward a new-energy economy that creates good jobs for American workers and protects our communities and the environment.

Wendy Patton is senior associate at Policy Matters Ohio, a not-for-profit research organization in Columbus that examines the effect of economic issues on working families. Sara LeTourneau is Labor/Climate Project director of BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of unions and environmental groups that seeks to expand the number and quality of clean-energy jobs. Shanelle Smith is Ohio coordinator of Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders working to create American green-collar jobs.

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