By David Foster, BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director
President Obama visited a wind turbine plant in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, one that has a special role in building the 21st century clean energy economy. Owned and operated by Spanish wind-turbine company Gamesa, the plant is built on the site of a shuttered U.S. Steel plant. The company set up U.S. operations in Pennsylvania, along with another plant in Ebensburg, after the state passed its renewable energy portfolio standard in 2004. Gamesa employs nearly 1,000 workers in Pennsylvania, many of them members of the United Steelworkers union.
Thirty years of unfair trade policies, their ineffectual enforcement, and structural disinvestment in the steel industry left plants shuttered across the state and elsewhere. But Gamesa is a shining light of hope. It represents not only a revitalized steel plant; but the potential of a 21st century industry to put people back to work while expanding the development of clean, renewable energy — which will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect the environment for our kids and our grandkids.
After the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, we are stuck with an unemployment problem that will take years to solve. Although slowly gaining jobs, our economy still has more than 13 million unemployed and millions more underemployed — those working one or more part-time jobs to make the ends meet while searching desperately for full-time work. We can do better, and we have to do better, now.
What we need is a comprehensive national strategy to get people back to work in good, middle class jobs across the country. A 21st century jobs plan should be focused on building the industries of the future in the United States — renewable energy, energy efficiency, broadband, smart grid, and transportation — and ensuring that those jobs are created right here at home. Such a plan would protect the health and safety of workers, protect our air, water and land, and position the U.S. to be a leader in the global economy. And such a jobs plan should also include the right to organize and bargain collectively for important workplace protections. To ensure that the clean energy economy is also a fair economy, we need more union-represented clean energy manufacturing facilities like Gamesa in the United States.
But China and Europe are fast taking the lead in this race for a clean energy economy. China already created one million jobs in its clean energy sector. Last week, Pew Trusts released a study showing that China once again topped the list for clean energy investment , with Germany coming in second, and the U.S. dropping to third. If we don’t act now, we risk falling even further behind.
The U.S. can compete in the 21st century economy, but only if we get moving now.
A real jobs plan must put in place clear signals for market development and encourage public-private partnerships that will build the industries of the future in the United States. Creating markets for renewables and advanced autos will create manufacturing jobs. Retrofitting the nation’s building stock and rebuilding the transportation infrastructure will create construction jobs. Expanding the broadband network and ensuring the cleaner and more efficient transmission of energy will create good jobs around the country and spark a new wave of innovation.
These are the keys to a 21st century economy in the United States — one that creates good, middle class jobs in the industries of the future, protects our environment, secures our nation’s energy future, and ensures the U.S. leads in the global clean energy economy. The President’s speech at Gamesa today demonstrates that vision — turning old into new, revitalizing our forgotten middle class and leaving a better world for the next generation.
Now, let’s get to work. David Foster is the Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations. Jobs21! — Good Jobs for the 21st Century, an initiative of the BlueGreen Alliance, is calling for a jobs plan to make America a leader in the jobs and industries of the 21st century clean energy economy.