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Hope for the Midwest: A National Renewable Energy Standard

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I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city hand been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces
A, O, way to go Ohio...


Mourning her home state, Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders could have been singing for today's Midwest with its idled manufacturing capacity and boarded up storefronts, with so much misery launched by the banking and big auto crises.

Chris Matthews on Hardball can't stop talking about it. "Where's the America that makes stuff? Where's the manufacturing?" he barks, linking the jobs crisis to politics, noting that the powerful Midwest just pivoted toward new Republican candidates. He's concerned with big public works - bridges, railways, highways, but he needs to look forward to renewable energy for the bonanza on the way.

The industrial belt stretching from Pennsylvania through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin switched four senate seats in favor of Republicans (and Ohio replaced one GOP senator). Republicans also netted a score of new House seats from this region, from a swath stretching to include rural New York, Michigan and Minnesota.

Those states that have swung red are our nation's manufacturing breadbasket, and their depressed areas need what liberals and environmentalists have been pushing. Not a climate bill necessarily, but a national energy policy including a national renewable energy standard (RES), plus extension of key tax credits to give investors certainty and prompt them to put manufacturing back in the game.

One challenge is that Republican candidates have been funded more by fossil fuel interests than Democrats by a factor of three (see here and here). Also, the new Republican persona takes it as an article of faith that climate science is to be shown disrespect and denial. While many concede we cannot get a climate bill soon, getting an RES ought to be a straight shot for the sake of jobs and national competitiveness. But the Midwest and the nation will have to push Congress into action, reminding them that a National Journal poll found in August that 78 percent of Americans support a national RES, including 70 percent of Republicans.

To look at a map of the US showing all the statewide RES's is to see a vast sea of states in action for cleaner energy. Only 14 have passed nothing for an RES, but all of the Midwestern states have (except for Indiana). Ohio has a very good RES, which activists should mention frequently to future Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, if the Congress doesn't pass an RES in this lame duck session.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has made renewable energy and advanced car batteries her major cause in rebuilding her state's economy and job base that's been demolished by the mischief of the big three automakers.

John Grabner of Cardinal Fastener in Ohio announced, when winning the Supplier of the Year Award at the American Wind Energy Association's fall symposium, that he's seen job growth of 47 percent in recent months to keep up with global demand for his wind turbine components. His company chose to retool to capture this market as companies all over the region have; community colleges of the region also have remade their curricula to meet new labor needs.

However, a national push is needed. As Iberdrola President Don Furman has noted, "We're in a race between the policies of our country and the policies of other countries. Without that RES, we won't get the jobs; they'll go overseas for the next 20 years."

Ernst and Young has been reporting on the attractiveness of renewable energy markets since 2003, noting that this year the US relinquished its top position held since 2006 to China. "This follows the failure in the US Senate's proposed energy bill to include a Federal Renewable Energy Standard (RES) provision."

Way to go, Senate!

The Sierra Club's Michael Brune thinks a national RES is in reach, just barely, so the Club is pushing for that. "The goal, whether it's with China or other countries, is to create a clean energy arms race."

If we cannot get a climate bill right away, we at least have California, the world's eighth largest economy, sending a signal of hope for cleaner air and new technologies for the next century. We also need to get a national RES with its complement of tax credits, to show Europe and China, which do have national standards, we can meet them and beat them.

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