On Nov. 12 the Blue Green Alliance, a national partnership of unions and environmental groups, released “Building the Clean Energy Assembly Line,” a detailed, state-by-state analysis of how tougher federal renewable energy standards would impact job creation in existing manufacturing firms across the country.

The findings? If Congress and the Obama administration mandated that the share of renewable content in the U.S. electrical grid reach 25 percent by 2025, the demand for wind turbines, solar panels and other clean-energy technologies would create 850,000 manufacturing jobs nationwide, including more than 18,000 in Minnesota.

That would go a long way toward putting industrial-union members back to work. Manufacturing has been a principal casualty of the economic downturn, with more than 2 million jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007.

Tim Lovaasen, president of the Industrial Union Council in Minnesota, said Congress must ensure the burgeoning green economy puts middle class Americans to work.

“It is essential that we act now to rebuild our domestic manufacturing base,” Lovaasen said. “We need a comprehensive industrial policy to rebuild manufacturing and to make the U.S. the world’s leading manufacturer of new, clean-energy technology and its components.”

Stalled in the Senate
Congressional leaders had hoped to pass a climate change bill in advance of United Nations talks on the subject in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month. The House of Representatives passed a bill in June, but companion bills in the Senate remain stuck in committee, overshadowed by higher priorities like health insurance reform.

When Congress revisits climate change legislation – likely next year – the Blue Green Alliance wants to see more robust renewable energy standards included in the Senate bill than those passed by the House.

The House bill would require electricity suppliers to meet 20 percent of their demand through renewable electricity and electricity savings by 2020. The Blue Green Alliance report calls for a renewable standard of 25 percent by 2025 to maximize the legislation’s benefit both environmentally and economically.

“As we face a cooling economy and a warming world, we can’t afford to lose this momentum,” said Margaret Levin, state director of the Sierra Club’s Northstar Chapter. “If we do fail to avert the worst effects of climate change by acting now, we could … endanger the natural legacy we have worked hard to protect.”

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Josh Low, Margaret Levins and Tim Lovaasen spoke at the Blue Green Alliance news conference.

Photo by Michael Moore

The Minnesota model
Minnesota’s senators need not travel far to find evidence that a strong renewable energy standard creates economic, as well as environmental, benefits. The Minnesota Legislature already has passed the toughest renewable energy standard on the books anywhere in the country – the same standard, in fact, called for in the Blue Green Alliance report.

In response, the state’s utility companies are investing in wind, solar and geothermal power sources that will help them achieve the 25-percent standard required by 2025.

Joshua Low, a Blue Green Alliance field organizer based in Minnesota, said the state’s aggressive approach to fighting climate change is creating good, green jobs for Minnesotans – union members included.

“We have Iron Workers, Laborers, lots of the Building Trades unions” working on renewable energy projects, Low said. “(Electricians) are going to work installing renewable-energy and energy-efficiency products.”

Manufacturing lags behind
Manufacturing jobs, though, are not yet emerging from the state’s new renewable energy standard – not among manufacturers inside the state, anyway. Low acknowledged that’s a troubling fact.

He and Lovaasen agreed a nationwide renewable energy standard would stimulate demand for green energy components, benefiting the “supply chain” of domestic manufacturers inside and outside Minnesota.

“We need to make sure that all levels of government are working hard to attract those jobs here to Minnesota,” Low added. “Our mayors and our Congress people have been working hard to attract those jobs, the Blue Green Alliance has been working hard with them to attract those jobs.

“It’s time that Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken work very hard to pass strong legislation that supports green manufacturing.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org

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