Vice President Biden’s announcement Wednesday of a $5 billion increase in a clean energy industry tax incentive is a badly-needed boost to a U.S. manufacturing sector that has taken it on the chin much of the last thirty years.
This hits home for me and fellow Operation Free veterans who just came off the latest installment of the Veterans for American Power tour through Indiana, West Virginia, and the Southwestern area of Virginia. We rolled through once-mighty manufacturing areas like Northwest Indiana and the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia – cogs in the economic engine that helped defeat the Axis in World War II and outlast the Soviet Union in the Cold War (and areas not unlike my own Rust Belt hometown of Meadville, in Northwest PA).
In Wheeling, we talked to soldiers and Marines who came home from the battlefields of World War II and Korea and immediately found work at one of the many steel mills and foundries in the area. This was a clear path to the middle class, where a hard-working young man recently out of the service could get a job in the mill and start a family – honest work for decent pay.
Glenn Kunkel, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war who has been a stalwart of the bus tour, is from Toronto, Ohio, just upstream from Wheeling. When he came back from his battlefield, the local mill that had once kept much of his family employed wasn’t hiring. (As the Washington Post reports today in a long story about the plight of the Youngstown/Warren area – north of where we were on the tour and just west of my hometown – the story is the same across much of the former industrial heartland).
Glenn and I are both here at Operation Free primarily because we care about the need to strengthen our national security by investing in clean, American energy. But we’re also here to encourage the growth of new clean energy jobs in our home areas, to harness the hard-working spirit of the industrial heartland where we both grew up.
Let’s be clear – this is not just simple nostalgia for a bygone era. Many economists – including Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council at the White House – believe that the U.S. is in for a long period of persistent double-digit unemployment if we don’t do something serious to create new sectors of jobs. While development of a new clean energy economy here in America won’t replace every job that has been lost over the years, it is a fundamental component in the long-term recovery of the American economy, and vital to our continued strength as a world power. Furthermore, my native Rust Belt region is an ideal area for clean energy manufacturing development, owing to the pool of well-trained blue-collar workers who are currently un- or under-employed.
Since taking office, the Obama-Biden Administration has made progress towards greater development of clean energy manufacturing here in America (as outlined in a recent memo from the Vice President). The $5 billion increase in Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit is only the latest example of this commitment.
But this is only a fraction of what is required. Operation Free is urging Congress to take the next step by passing a strong clean energy bill that includes market-based incentives to spur development of new sources of energy that can be produced right here in America. And even with the passage of a bill like the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733, currently in the Senate), it will take a long, sustained national effort (not unlike the Manhattan Project or Apollo program) to create the right environment for clean energy industries to prosper.
The jobs won’t come back overnight. We aren’t promising that the passage of clean energy legislation will bring back every single job that has been lost in the Rust Belt in the last four decades, or that all veterans returning home from overseas to the Ohio or Mahoning Valleys today will land a middle-class “green-collar” job tomorrow.
But what we do know is that the status quo is unacceptable. The status quo has led to billions of dollars in oil money ending up in the hands of our enemies. And it has seen untold thousands of jobs lost in the industrial heartland.
Development of a new clean energy economy will put America back in control of its own destiny by reducing our over-reliance on foreign energy sources. We’ll make the world a less dangerous place by mitigating the effects of climate change.
And most significantly for my home region, the development of a clean energy economy will start putting the hard-working men and women of the industrial heartland back to work building the energy infrastructure of the future.