Energy solution: Made in the USA

Column by Sam Rasoul

sam-rasoul.JPGLast September, I bought a hybrid car, which I had long wanted.

The decision to buy at that time was a practical one: campaigning in the Sixth District required driving from Roanoke to Woodstock with a side trip to Lynchburg. I had to decrease gasoline costs. At the same time, I wanted a comfortable ride.

Just when I needed it most, I was able to buy the first American-made hybrid sedan on the market.

That car symbolizes the solution to three serious problems we face. Despite congressional efforts to ignore the facts, over the past decade the United States has lost 3 million jobs in manufacturing, jobs that paid a living wage and provided benefits such as health insurance and retirement packages. Over those same 10 years, our leaders slowly and reluctantly acknowledged a potential global environmental crisis and accompanying energy crisis. While lobbyists push Congress to keep $18 billion in big-oil subsidies, every hour we spend $41 million on foreign oil, oil we buy most often from countries that lack stability or democracy, threatening our national security.

We can no longer afford denial or procrastination. One answer to the three-pronged environmental, energy and job crisis, a sustainable solution, is the creation of “green collar” jobs. We can and must produce clean, renewable energy, and we can and must insist every phase of that production takes place in the United States at the hands of American workers. At the same time, we must increase energy efficiency, including retro-fitting buildings, jobs which by their very nature will stay at home. Wrapping up a house and sending it to China for an insulation upgrade is impossible, of course, but we also must make sure our wind turbines and solar panels are not manufactured offshore. As George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, explained “it makes no sense … to wean America off its dependence on foreign oil only to become dependent on other countries for products in sustainable energy production.”

Private industry is already increasing production of wind and solar and other renewable energies. For instance, when a Maytag factory closed in Newton, Iowa, a company making wind-turbine blades decided to take advantage of the skilled workforce already in town. This company once built boats but moved to turbines a few years ago because they saw more opportunity for growth. The wind turbine company guaranteed 500 jobs within three years with decent entry salaries.

However, private industry can’t carry the burden alone. We can make an opportunity out of a crisis, an opportunity to put America back to work while at the same time taking the first steps in long-term solutions to energy, environmental, and national security issues. The Apollo Alliance, dedicated to creating high-wage jobs and energy independence, projects that with sufficient federal commitment, we could add more than 3 million jobs to the market over the next 10 years.

But do we have the political will? The federal government will have to provide incentives and make a serious investment in our future. We need a Congress that will extend the investment tax credit for renewable energy. We need a Congress that will extend the tax credit for efficient new housing and commercial building and appropriate additional funds for the Weatherization Assistance Program. We need a Congress that will invest in job training programs geared toward clean energy production. We need a Congress that will help U.S. automakers produce cars that rely less and less on petroleum and a Congress that will significantly raise fuel economy standards (raising the standards from 27 mpg to 35 mpg over the next 15 years is neither significant nor serious).

We need a Congress that will encourage local sources of renewable energy and open the electricity grids. We need a Congress serious about the environment, energy, jobs, and national security, a Congress, as I have said before, that sees beyond the next four years to the next 40.

Sam Rasoul is a candidate for the Sixth District Democratic Party congressional nomination.

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