Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Missouri Workers Need Green Jobs Now


By Charles E. Fisher

There’s a common theme coming from some of Missouri’s Congressional delegation regarding the subject of clean energy and green jobs.

We’ve been hearing a lot of “not so fast,” and “no, we can’t,” with a lot of mumbling about costs and endangering current jobs. Senator Kit Bond even went so far as to issue a report called “Yellow Light on Green Jobs.” His sound bite on the issue: “It sounds really neat to think we're going to have wind-powered jobs, except I don’t see cars going down the road with propellers on them.”

For members of United Auto Workers Local 2379 in Jefferson City, green jobs are a reality. We quite literally have wind-powered jobs, building the transformers for a new wind farm in northwest Missouri. According to the Department of Energy, this single wind project in DeKalb County will not only create 150 megawatts of pollution-free energy; it will create more than 2,500 jobs here and around the country.

That means a lot to a group of workers that have watched their business decline and co-workers hit the unemployment line. As members of the UAW, my brothers and sisters and I know that we are not just in danger of losing jobs; we are losing jobs.

Right now, only about one out of every four clean energy companies is based in the U.S. Germany's second largest export, after cars, is wind turbines, and they also deploy nearly half of the world's solar panels. Even though the U.S. wind industry is booming – including in Missouri – more than 70 percent of the turbines popping up across the country were actually built overseas. Instead of importing green technologies manufactured abroad, it's time for the U.S. to lead in the development of these technologies, which will power the world for decades to come.

Missouri's skilled workforce can play a key role in developing these new industries and deploying new technologies. The only thing standing in our way is a handful of out-of-touch politicians in Washington, who seem to have lost faith in American ingenuity.

It doesn’t have to be that way. According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute, a responsible, comprehensive approach to clean energy would create 43,000 new jobs here in Missouri. These jobs would include everything from mechanics needed to retrofit public buses to be more fuel efficient, to electricians and roofers to install solar panels. We’ll need line workers to manufacture the components for wind turbines, truck drivers to deliver the pieces, and steel and sheet metal workers to put them together. Replacing our inefficient and aging electrical grid will take engineers and laborers. Making homes and businesses energy efficient will require trades from carpenters to insulation installers and HVAC technicians.

The politicians that oppose green jobs are telling us that we can’t afford to make the investment. We need to let them know that we can’t afford not to. There is no reason the workers that built the strongest economy of the 20th century should be left behind in the 21st.
Fisher is head trustee and past-president of UAW Local 2379.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 7/09