Today, April 22nd, marks the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day. To mark the occasion, groups representing workers, manufacturing, and environmental groups will be hitting Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to support policies that ensure American manufacturing capacity is used to meet the increasing demand for renewable energy production. They will be joined by clean energy manufacturing workers from across the country who contribute to the clean energy economy.
Currently, billions of dollars are being invested to support the production of clean energy in the United States. However, Americans have been frustrated to learn that efforts to create jobs here at home are resulting in the creation of manufacturing jobs in China and elsewhere. A prime example is the recent Texas windfarm story, where $450 million in taxpayer subsidies would go to a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer. In fact, Russ Choma at the Investigative Reporting Workshop reports that of $1.05 billion in clean-energy grants handed out by the government, 84 percent - a total of $849 million - has gone to foreign wind companies.
The truth is that the U.S. is struggling to compete against subsidized overseas competition and already runs a green goods trade deficit. In 2008, the U.S. ran an overall green trade deficit of $8.9 billion, including a deficit of $6.4 billion in the critical category of renewable energy.
This week, Vice President Biden told a Building Trades Legislative Conference, "To me, it's a good thing if we get cleaner electricity from a windmill. But it's only a great thing if our guys build the windmill." He couldn't be more right.
As Congress debates energy policy and ways to address climate change, it needs to look to the revitalization of American's renewable energy sector. Specifically, Congress must support Buy America domestic content requirements, increased access to capital for plant re-tooling, and the important 48c manufacturing tax credit for clean energy equipment.
Simply put, without properly designed tax and investment incentives for clean energy generation, loan guarantees for nuclear reactor construction, and other federal supports, efforts to rejuvenate our manufacturing base will continue to be unseated by subsidized imports from countries seeking to capitalize on new demand for clean energy products in the United States, such as wind turbines and solar panels.
Congress and the Obama Administration need to take strong steps to make sure that the U.S. becomes a world leader in clean energy manufacturing. The opportunities for American manufacturers and workers are great, but the challenges are significant. If not addressed properly, the U.S. will replace dependence on foreign oil with dependence on imported renewable goods from China and other competitors, and that's a losing proposition.