We can choose jobs AND clean environment
October 30, 2012 • HOWARD A. LEARNER | Executive Director of Environmental Law & Policy Center
The election campaigns are bringing hypercharged political sound bites about environmental values even though there’s very strong public support for cleaner air that’s healthier to breathe, cleaner water that’s safer to drink and enjoy for recreation, and fewer dangerous toxics in our communities.
The best news is that environmental progress is being achieved together with the growing green economy, and it’s helping drive Wisconsin’s and the nation’s economic recovery. Energy-efficient equipment and appliances, wind and solar energy development, more fuel-efficient cars, and modern rail development are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment.
Nonetheless, some super PACs and trade associations are hauling out the old myth and false dichotomy that we must choose between job creation and environmental progress. That wasn’t true 40 years ago when the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act passed, and it’s not true today. Let’s look at how innovative clean technologies are growing Wisconsin’s economy.
Energy efficiency improvements are creating jobs, saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, keeping money in Wisconsin’s economy, and reducing pollution. For example, Johnson Controls is a leading energy-efficiency business employing skilled workers designing and retrofitting commercial, industrial and governmental buildings, schools, hospitals and homes to be more energy efficient. Saving energy saves consumers money.
Because Wisconsin imports the coal, gas and uranium burned in power plants, more efficient energy use keeps money in the state’s economy. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner lakes and rivers for all. Why would anyone argue that it’s somehow smart to waste energy and money?
Solar and wind power development are driving many new manufacturing and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy. Old-line Wisconsin manufacturing companies are retooling to supply growing markets for renewable energy equipment. An Environmental Law and Policy Center’s report shows that Wisconsin is home to more than 300 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 12,000 related jobs. Neighboring Iowa is the nation’s No. 2 state for installed wind power, and Illinois was No. 2 for new wind power development in 2011.
Wisconsin manufacturers have much at stake in the debate over extension of the federal protection tax credit for wind power, which expires Dec. 31. Uncertainty has stalled wind power investment. President Obama announced his strong support for the wind power tax credit extension, while Gov. Mitt Romney is opposed. Wisconsin politicians must get the policy framework right to keep advancing the state’s clean energy jobs.
Cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks save us money at the gas pump, cut back air pollution, and improve our national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. They keep money in Wisconsin’s economy rather than drain dollars to the Mideast, Venezuela and oil-producing states. The Obama administration’s leadership in stabilizing and modernizing the American auto industry is a true success story, which is especially important for Wisconsin with its high percentage of auto-related manufacturing jobs. As car sales stay strong, assembly plants and parts suppliers across Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana are reviving.
The federal clean car standards will increase fuel economy to a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. That will save trillions of dollars for America’s economy, create jobs for Americans building the cleaner cars for the future, and reduce carbon pollution. This is a smart solution.
High-speed rail development is on track across Michigan with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s leadership and across Illinois with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s leadership. High-performance rail improves mobility, creates jobs, spurs economic growth, and reduces pollution. Midwest supply chain businesses will soon be manufacturing equipment for new rail cars and locomotives.
Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to reject $810 million of federal high-speed rail funds missed an opportunity and, hopefully, can be reversed. Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient rail service connecting Madison to Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis and other Midwestern cities is an important third transportation option to highway congestion with higher gas prices and rising airfares with fewer flights. This is a sensible solution for our future.
We are being overwhelmed by 30-second political attack ads from all sides. Let’s separate sound solutions from the sound bites. We are achieving job creation, economic growth and better environmental quality together. That’s what the public wants and it’s happening.
Howard Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, www.elpc.org, a Midwest-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization with offices in Chicago and Madison.