Iowa is well-positioned to be a leader in the rapidly growing green economy. That requires savvy policy and business-development actions to continue seizing strategic opportunities for progress.
What's at stake: Iowa's competitiveness and the jobs of the future as the global economy transitions to cleaner technologies for global-warming solutions.
Energy, environmental, employment, economic and national-security goals are converging. President Barack Obama and Congress are moving toward realigning our nation to accelerate clean-energy development to create new jobs and achieve significant greenhouse-gas pollution reductions. Clean-energy development is a win-win-win for job creatin, economic growth and better environmental quality. Three major opportunies:
Making our homes, businesses and public buildings more energy efficient is a no-brainer. We really can't afford costly energy waste in today's economy, when household budgets and businesses' bottom lines are strained. Retrofitting buildings with more efficient lighting, heating and cooling, windows and other equipment will create new, good-paying electrical, plumbing, carpentry and construction jobs.
Energy efficiency reduces utility bills, thus helping both businesses' bottom lines and household budgets. It plugs the billion-dollar energy drain that is leaking Iowa's money to states that produce natural gas and coal. Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, cleanest and cheapest way to meet power needs and avoid global-warming pollution.
Iowa's energy-efficiency winners include Pella Windows, Musco Lighting, Cenergy, providing energy design and consulting, and skilled union trade workers performing energy-efficiency upgrades in commercial and public buildings. A new farm bill program championed by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin provides grants for energy-efficiency improvements for farms and rural small businesses. The economic-stimulus legislation provides $20 billion more nationally for energy efficiency.
Wind is the nation's fastest-growing energy resource. Iowa has nearly 3,000 megawatts installed. Six major manufacturing plants employing more than 1,000 people are operating or planned. Iowa manufacturers specializing in steel fabrication, castings and gears fit well into the wind-industry supply chain.
Huge wind-turbine blades and towers are increasingly being made near the installation sites in the Midwest to ease transportation and logistics. States with supportive policies are gaining business. Iowa is well-positioned to benefit from the national renewable-energy standard being considered by Congress.
New passenger rail
The economic-stimulus legislation includes $9.3 billion for high-speed rail and improved Amtrak service. The Midwest high-speed rail network would connect 11 major cities within a 400-mile radius of Chicago and the mid-sized cities in between.
Gov. Chet Culver and Congressman Leonard Boswell are calling for new Des Moines-Iowa City-Chicago rail service. These new trains can improve transportation mobility, pull together the regional economy, create jobs and help the environment by reducing pollution. The Greater Des Moines Partnership, labor unions and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are working together to get new rail service going.
Solving global-warming problems is our generation's moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge. The global economy is transforming with the rapidly growing trillion-dollar clean-energy technology sector. Lots of jobs and money are at stake. Iowa should seize the strategic opportunities and use its competitive advantages to help lead the growing green economy of the future.
HOWARD A. LEARNER is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center
About the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Iowa Global Warming Campaign:
ELPC is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental, legal advocacy and eco-business
innovation organization. We are environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal
making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress
and economic development can be achieved together.