Clean Energy Battle Royale?

The following was initially posted at The Huffington Post

America’s governors have begun to throw down over who can become the most energy independent and bring in the most jobs. Will the presidential candidates be next?

Yesterday marked the end of a landmark event, the first Apollo Summit for Clean Energy & Good Jobs. The three-day conference of the Apollo Alliance brought together labor leaders, business executives, environmental advocates and community organizers to build a clean energy future that will create millions of good-paying, high-skill jobs.

The highlight of the Summit was when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick pledged (see the video) to make his state a leader in renewable energy…

I don’t just want the wind farms. I want the companies that build the turbines. I want the ones that assemble the hybrid vehicles and consult on the conservation strategies. I want the companies that design and manufacture the solar panels. The whole integrated industry ought to and can have a place in Massachusetts … I really believe that if we get this right, the whole world will be our customer.

…and then Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (see the video) pledged to “arm wrestle” Patrick for those jobs:

Governor Patrick talks about bringing jobs to Massachusetts. We’re going to arm wrestle you for those jobs because we want those same manufacturing plants.

This is not unhealthy cannibalization, scrapping over a handful of jobs. This is healthy competition that can create millions of jobs. As more governors invest in clean energy, there will be more jobs needed to satisfy the increased supply and demand.

For example, the Summit heard from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (see the video), who lured the company Gamesa to build wind farms and manufacture turbines in his state. How? By approving legislation ensuring that the state will purchase enough renewable energy to make it worth Gamesa’s while. And Gamesa returned the favor by partnering with the United Steelworkers, setting the stage for 1,000 new living wage, union jobs.

The kind of manufacturing jobs that America has been losing, weakening our economy.

Will we start seeing presidential candidates join governors in upping the ante?

Sen. Hillary Clinton fired an early shot, addressing the Apollo Summit (see the video) yesterday and announcing her plans for a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund. Her plan tells Big Oil to “pay or play,” invest in alternative energy on its own, or be forced to contribute to the fund.

Also, Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed the Summit as well, and casually dropped that ’08 hopeful Sen. Chris Dodd has signed on to his ambitious bill to slash greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. (Earlier this year, Senators Clinton and Barack Obama signed onto John McCain’s bill to cut emissions two-thirds from 2004 levels by 2050.)

Tacking names onto bills is one thing. But will the candidates engage in productive one-upmanship? Can they, at this early stage of the campaign, generate attention for competing yet complementary ideas that advance the debate and help Speaker Nancy Pelosi meet her goal of passing global warming legislation on July 4th, Independence Day?

To help shape their ideas, all of the candidates can look to the Apollo Summit’s sessions, such as:

— How we can craft policy to create thriving markets for renewable fuels

— How investment in green buildings creates hundreds of thousands of permanent, high-skill operation and maintenance jobs

— How clean energy policies can grow urban economies and benefit all segments of American society

We’re in for a long campaign season. If candidates spend the year squabbling over trivial matters, like the comments of some donor, voters will tune out and campaigns won’t get traction.

But if candidates use the time to tackle the big issues that matter to voters, they’ll be able to show off their leadership skills and help us bring about dramatic, substantive change.


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