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Obama Goes Green to Revive American Economy

His bill matches many goals of enviro-labor Alliance

January 27, 2009 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Environmentalists and many world leaders are pleased by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill.
Even in this era of costly crisis and even more expensive rescue, $112.9 billion is still a lot of money. But that sum is what Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama are proposing to spend over the next two years to build new transit lines, weatherize buildings, manufacture clean next-generation vehicles, develop wind and solar power, make state and federal vehicle fleets more energy efficient, and create new green-collar jobs.

The details of the proposed stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill, were made public on January 15.

More crucial than the scale of the spending on clean energy is what the President says it represents to his overall economic development strategy. Clean energy projects are the foundation of the $550 billion that Congress and the new administration want to spend to stimulate the economy to put 3 million people back to work. The balance of the proposed $825 billion stimulus is $275 billion in tax cuts.

The magnitude of the proposed clean energy, good jobs investment clearly indicates that President Obama plans to launch his presidency with one of the most transcendent ideas in the history of the republic: He wants to anchor the American economy with energy sources other than those produced from fossil fuels.

“A new energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of new jobs that we need,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference last month. “That’s why my economic recovery plan is going to be focused on how can we make a series of down payments on things we should have done 10, 20, 30 years ago.”

Stimulus Matches Apollo Proposals
The new President and his energy and environmental team are convinced that a new era of prosperity can be ushered in by weaning America from the way it has powered its economy for nearly two centuries. During the presidential campaign, he vowed to invest $150 billion in clean energy projects over 10 years and create 5 million new green-collar jobs.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama made it clear that this was a top priority. Since then, the deepening economic crisis has only added to the urgency of passing a stimulus program that relies heavily on developing the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors.

Almost all of the clean energy, good jobs programs made public by the new administration, along with the dimension of the spending called for by Congress and the new president, track closely with the ideas and proposals advanced last year by the Apollo Alliance in The New Apollo Program and the Apollo Economic Recovery Act.

“The recovery package released by Congressional leaders today is big, bold, and with immediate implementation will serve as a down payment on long-neglected investment in a clean energy, good jobs, made in America economy,” said Apollo Alliance Chairman Phil Angelides upon release of the program. “This plan embraces the sweeping set of actions that the Apollo Alliance’s national coalition of business, labor, environmental, and community organizations recommended in The New Apollo Program.

“The House leadership’s plan makes significant investments in increasing renewable energy production, modernizing our transmission grid, jump-starting critical transit projects, expanding energy efficiency, and putting people back to work in high-quality green-collar jobs,” Mr. Angelides added.

The New Apollo Program called for a ten-year, $500 billion, comprehensive clean energy investment strategy to produce 5 million new clean energy jobs. The Apollo Economic Recovery Act proposed a quick start $50 billion one-year investment strategy for clean energy development to serve as the basis of an economic stimulus package. This week, a 10-person Apollo Alliance delegation led by Mr. Angelides was in Washington to advance clean energy investments in meetings with Carol Browner, the assistant to the president for energy and climate, and with leaders of the House and Senate.

“Having just returned from Washington and meeting with the very leaders who will be driving the clean energy agenda from the White House and the Capitol,” he said, “I am confident that the will exists to put America on the path to economic recovery, climate stability, and energy security.”

New Energy For America
The new administration and Congress proposed spending $112.9 billion over two years on clean energy, good jobs investment (see sidebar for details).

A statement issued by Congress and the new administration said: “This plan targets investments to key areas that will create and preserve good jobs at the same time as it is strengthening the ability of this economy to become more efficient and produce more opportunities for employment.”

There are strong indications that Americans are fully prepared to undertake a transition of the magnitude that President Obama envisions. For more than a decade, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence, U.S. voters have approved 70 percent of public referendums that have called for imposing property or sales taxes for new mass transit systems. Before the credit crisis, sales of full-size SUVs had already begun to slip. Major cities have developed new economic development strategies based on reducing pollution, preserving natural resources, and becoming much more energy efficient.

Apollo Is Key Researcher, Advocate
Studies conducted by the Apollo Alliance, government, other non-profit groups, and universities all conclude that the transition to a clean energy economy will produce millions of jobs. A major component of the Obama stimulus package calls for spending $67 billion to make schools and other public buildings far more energy efficient, $10 billion to construct and modernize transit systems, and $11 billion to build a new electric grid system. This infrastructure spending, the new administration estimates, will likely generate 2 million jobs.

Programs to improve energy efficiency of homes and businesses would create 100,000 on-site jobs and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs, economists estimate. The Obama plan will call for sharply increasing weatherization programs for homeowners, from 140,000 homes a year to 1 million annually for low-income Americans—a move that would expand the number of private sector workers involved in home weatherization programs from roughly 8,000 today. He also intends to make 75 percent of federal government buildings more energy-efficient.

In addition the Obama administration plans to spend $2 billion to develop new battery technology to power the next generation of vehicles, and $8 billion to promote wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Continuing this level of investment over a decade will yield 5 million new green-collar jobs, an estimate supported by Apollo Alliance. These jobs would include everything from skilled trades and crafts, to managers, to maintenance employees. The president’s plan also calls for aiding manufacturers of clean energy equipment by establishing an advanced manufacturing fund, modeled on a program in Michigan that identifies and invests in innovative clean energy proposals.

Green-Collar Job
Most of these green-collar jobs will require more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree, and will pay family-supporting wages. That’s huge in a nation in which less than 30 percent of adults earned a college degree. And many of these jobs could be created in Michigan and other industrial states hardest hit by recent losses of manufacturing jobs.

The transition to a renewable energy economy is already proving to be a powerful economic engine. Before the current recession, clean energy was the fastest-growing industrial sector in the United States. Sales of new materials and equipment for the renewable energy sector—steel, gears, wind turbines, solar panels, insulation, software, high tech batteries, gauges, and hundreds of other products—reached $25 billion in the U.S this year, up from less than $10 billion in 2004.

In 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the United States added 7,500 megawatts of generating capacity from wind - equivalent to 8 big new coal-fired power plants. Since mid-2007, 41 new wind turbine and component plants opened or expanded, generating 9,000 new jobs. Texas alone this year spent $3 billion on wind generating equipment. Wind is the leading edge of a clean energy industrial sector that, according to various studies, produced 500,000 new green-collar jobs in the U.S. in the past three years.

Keith Schneider, a nationally known environmental and energy journalist, founded the Michigan Land Use Institute in 1995. He now serves as communications director at the Apollo Alliance, which first published this news article on January 15, 2009. Reach him at keith@apolloalliance.org.

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