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April 1 , 2010: In This Issue. . .

  • Sierra Club and Labor Push Policies to Create Clean Energy Jobs
  • A panel of environmental and labor representatives recently testified before an interim hearing of the Texas House Business and Industries Committee, pushing the common theme that investing and promoting good state policy on clean energy was one way to attract and maintain manufacturing jobs in Texas.

    The House Committee was considering an interim charge on manufacturing jobs in Texas, and heard from a variety of speakers, but issues related to energy demand and conservation soon took center stage. The Sierra Club took the lead in providing the environmentalist perspective.

    The environmental-labor panel was preceded by several speakers who set the stage for the hearing. For example, speaking for the Texas Workforce Commission, Mark Hughes noted that while Texas has more manufacturing jobs – about one million -- than any other state, Texas lost some 60,000 manufacturing jobs between 2003 and 2009. Another 78,000 were lost in the last year.

    On the other hand, output actually increased during this period of job loss. Hughes said that while the job loss situation likely would stabilize, the Workforce Commission is still projecting tens of thousands of more manufacturing jobs will be lost over the next two years.

    House Energy Committee Chairman Jim Keffer noted that his own iron foundry operation has shed tens and even hundreds of jobs, but had recently, very slowly, begun to hire some folks back.

    Speaking on behalf of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, Executive Director Luke Bellsnyder reminded the committee that average wages for manufacturing laborers was some $25,000 to $30,000 more than for other sectors, and that the indirect job creation was enormous.

    He asked the Committee to avoid upsetting the ability of Texas manufacturers to have access to cheap resources and especially electricity and to think about creative ways to retain manufacturers who are already here, rather than only concentrating on the newest firms that might be attracted to Texas.

    A number of speakers, including the panel on clean energy jobs, then spoke about the potential to generate manufacturing jobs, and other jobs, through the promotion of clean energy. Chris Engle, a consultant with Avalanche Consulting, noted that they had recently completed a study that estimated that nearly 80,000 jobs could be created through the development of another 10,000 MWs of renewable energy capacity (wind, solar, geothermal and biomass).

    The panel of representatives from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Texas AFL-CIO, and the Apollo Alliance spoke about the promise of clean energy jobs. Rick Levy, political representative of the Texas AFL-CIO, noted that environmental groups and labor unions don’t always agree but that we are united on the need for Texas to take advantage of their resources to create electricity from new clean resources that will produce jobs.

    When pressed by State Rep. Wayne Christian about whether increasing environmental regulation could shut down industries, Levy responded that we should compete against China and other countries not by loosening labor or environmental standards but by creating new niches and technologies that were also clean.

    On behalf of the Sierra Club, Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed reported on four studies highlighting the natural resources and energy efficiency opportunities Texas already has to be a national clean energy leader and a creator of tens thousands manufacturing and other jobs from that sector. Reed promoted six policies that could be taken by state agencies and other state officials that would help jump start these industries, including:
    • expanded energy efficiency utility programs;
    • a non-wind Renewable Portfolio Standard of 5,000 MWs by 2025 with “Made-in-Texas” incentives;
    • an expanded low-interest loan program for individuals, businesses and others seeking to make their buildings more efficient and add solar;
    • a Solar Bill of Rights to encourage on-site solar;
    • a Clean Energy Loan Fund to encourage clean energy companies to locate or expand in Texas; and
    • more efficient energy codes for new buildings, including green building standards for state buildings.

    When pressed by acting Committee Chair Gary Elkins as to whether these resources could actually be produced cheaply, Reed pointed out that wind –given incentives some ten years ago under the electricity deregulation legislation – was now competing with natural gas and other resources and had already met its requirements but was continuing to grow.

    Similarly, while average costs of solar installation hovered over $11 per watt in 1997, twelve years later they have fallen by roughly 50 percent.

    Ron Ruggiero, field director with the Apollo Alliance, told the committee that the Apollo Alliance had taken its name from the commitment the US took in the 60s and 70s to put men on the moon.

    A large-scale commitment at the federal, local and state level was needed to create a new industry in clean energy, and perhaps, more importantly make sure the U.S. and energy-intensive states like Texas, were leading the industry.

    Ruggiero noted that China has already outpaced the US in clean energy investments. He called on the legislators to back the federal Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act of 2009 currently being debated in Congress, which would provide low-interest federal loans for clean energy projects.

    He also said the Apollo Alliance had formed chapters in some 17 states, and was currently talking to businesses and organizations about forming a Texas Apollo Alliance to promote policies that would produce good jobs in the clean energy sector.

The State Capitol E-Report is a monthly electronic update from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reporting on Texas environmental policy issues of statewide interest. Contact us at: lonestar.chapter@sierraclub.org ...Header photo by Rob Zabroky
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