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This Earth Day: Jobs, Environment and Economic Growth Together

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Earth Day 1970 sounded an alarm. It launched the modern environmental movement, bringing 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. Today, the growing green economy is helping to drive the Midwest's and our nation's economic recovery. Energy efficient equipment and appliances, wind and solar energy development, cleaner more fuel efficient cars and modern high-performance rail development are good for job creation, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Nonetheless, some defensive polluters and politicized critics are hauling out the old myth and false dichotomy that we must choose between job creation and environmental progress. That wasn't true 42 years ago, and it isn't true today. Nor do most people believe in that canard. Let's look at the facts and progress of innovative clean technologies in the Midwest.

Energy Efficiency Improvements are creating jobs, saving people and businesses money on their utility bills, and reducing pollution. Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Shaw Group and Sieben Energy Associates are among the many energy efficiency businesses employing thousands of skilled workers retrofitting schools, hospitals, homes and commercial, industrial and governmental buildings. Saving energy saves consumers money and keeps money in the Midwest regional 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?

Wind and Solar Energy Development create manufacturing and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy. The Environmental Law & Policy Center's Wind and Solar Supply Chain reports show that:

• Illinois is home to more than 300 wind, solar and geothermal supply chain businesses and 18,000 related jobs
• Iowa is home to more than 80 wind supply chain businesses and 2,300 manufacturing jobs, alone.
• Michigan is home to more than 241 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 10,000 related jobs.
Ohio is home to more than 169 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 9,000 related jobs.
Wisconsin is home to more than 250 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 12,000 related jobs.

Chicago is home to the headquarters of 13 major wind power companies, making "the Windy City" a global wind industry hub. Old-line manufacturing companies including Brad Foote Gear Works (Cicero, IL), Dowding Industries -- Astraeus Wind Energy (Eaton Rapids, MI), A. Lucas & Sons Steel (Peoria, IL), S&C Electric (Chicago, IL), Timken (Canton, OH) and Broadwind -- Tower Tech (Manitowoc, WI) are re-tooling to supply growing markets for clean energy equipment. Iowa is the nation's #2 state for installed wind power, and Illinois was the nation's #2 state for new wind power development in 2011. Wind power is the fastest growing global energy source. Midwest politicians must get the policy framework right to keep advancing our region's clean energy economy leadership.

Cleaner, More Efficient Cars and Trucks save us money at the gas pump, cutback air pollution, improve national security by making our country less dependent on foreign oil, and keep money in the Midwest states' economies rather than drain dollars to the Middle East, 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 the Midwest with its high percentage of auto-related manufacturing jobs. Look at just Illinois: Ford is now adding 1,100 new jobs at its Chicago assembly plant, Chrysler is adding 1,800 new jobs at its Belvedere plant, and Mitsubishi Motors is investing at its Normal plant and promoting electric vehicles. Automakers and parts suppliers in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are reviving, and there are new advanced battery manufacturers, especially in Michigan.

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 greenhouse gas pollution. This is a smart solution.

High-Speed Rail Development is on track across Illinois with leadership from Democratic Governor Quinn and across Michigan with leadership from Republican Governor Snyder. High-performance rail improves mobility, creates jobs and spurs economic growth, and reduces pollution. Supply chain businesses across the Midwest will be manufacturing equipment for high-speed rail projects. Wisconsin Governor Walker's decision to reject $810 million of federal high-speed rail funds and Ohio Governor Kasich's decision to reject $400 million are missed opportunities, which we hope can be reversed in the future.

Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient trains connecting Chicago to Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis and to Cleveland, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Madison, Minneapolis-St. Paul 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.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' recent report shows that 3.1 million people hold jobs in green goods and services. Close to 500,000 jobs are in manufacturing, 370,000 in construction and 349,000 in professional, scientific and technical services. That's progress.

We will soon be 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.

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