As part of our “Whoppers of the 2010 Election Cycle” article, we noted how Republicans ran misleading ads accusing their Democratic opponents of creating jobs in China by supporting the stimulus package. Not only did these ads completely twist the facts, but it was disingenuous for Republicans candidates to accuse Democrats of sending jobs to China when GOP members opposed the “Buy American” provisions that would have prevented this offshoring. Here, we discuss how the GOP’s sustained opposition to meaningful climate and energy legislation played a larger role in sending green jobs overseas than a vote for the stimulus.
The ads in question twisted facts from an investigative report that had discovered some stimulus reimbursement funds for renewable energy projects, like wind farms, had gone to foreign-owned companies domestically and abroad, largely because there are few wind turbine manufacturers in America. The latest figures suggest only 0.00037% of the total $700 billion stimulus package, $2.6 million, may have made its way to China; however, the ads claimed that "China gets $2 billion to build windmills," or that the package "sent nearly $2 billion overseas to create jobs in China.”
Even though the numbers cited were incorrect (the majority of foreign-owned wind developers were European), America’s weak clean energy market makes it inevitable that development funds will make their way to foreign-owned businesses -- wind turbine purchases are half of the initial wind farm development costs, and the U.S. has only two homegrown wind turbine manufacturers, General Electric and Clipper Wind. What’s more, both manufacturers still import many parts from overseas factories, and their market share has been consistently slipping, thanks to increasingly vibrant wind industries in Europe and Asia.
Republican Policies are Responsible for the Dearth of Green Manufacturing Jobs
The dearth of domestic wind turbine manufacturers is largely attributable to Republican opposition to meaningful climate change and energy policy. When investors see that a stable market is growing, they build wind turbine plants in the area where demand is located. Companies won’t spend the millions necessary to build plants and hire employees until they can safely anticipate long-term demand for their products. The wind energy market grows when there is reduced reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels. Few wind turbine plants are located in the U.S. because manufacturers have not seen the economic incentive to build them, primarily because corporatist politicians have repeatedly blocked the legislation necessary to make clean energy viable in the U.S., putting the interests of their corporate oil cronies ahead of those of the American people.
The modern wind turbine is an American invention, and wind energy became an American priority during the 1974-75 energy crisis, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel cut off America’s cheap oil supply. Throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, entrepreneurs and researchers, in collaboration with NASA and the Department of Energy, installed clusters of wind turbines with the help of federal tax incentives. The Reagan administration’s free-market approach led the GOP to let these tax incentives lapse and slash federal funding for wind energy, bankrupting many wind start-ups. European companies bought some of these bankrupted companies and their technology, and European governments began investing heavily in their domestic wind industry, improving the technology and creating manufacturing jobs. In more recent years, green manufacturing has continued to lag based on weak domestic demand for wind energy, largely due to big oil-affiliated Republicans blocking energy legislation like the Kyoto Protocol or carbon emission standards.
Renewable energy is an international growth industry with great job-creating potential, as most of the world is aiming to reduce their dependence on foreign oil, based on both rising oil prices and national security concerns. Despite the current lack of U.S.-based “green manufacturers,” Obama administration policies have been aimed at catching up. The stimulus package was directed in part at retooling America’s workforce for green collar jobs and increasing clean energy production. The stimulus incentivized renewable energy projects in an effort to create the demand necessary to bring green manufacturing jobs to the U.S., as well as funds to train persons for these green-collar jobs. To further promote U.S.-based wind turbine manufacturing, in January 2010 President Obama announced $2.3 billion in tax credits for “Clean-Tech manufacturing” jobs.
But these projects can only generate short-term demand, and there will inevitably be a delay until plants are up-and-running. And even if plants are built from these stimulus incentives and tax credits, they will still need to have future buyers for long-term success. Capping carbon emissions would increase wind energy demand in the long term, thereby creating good, stable American jobs. What’s more, had climate change legislation been passed years ago, these green jobs would likely already have been in place, and there would have been no need to purchase wind turbines from foreign countries.
GOP Sends Jobs to China
Even though an insignificant amount of stimulus-funded wind projects sent any dollars to China, the country is becoming a clean energy giant.
Recently, investment analysts Ernst & Young ranked China the #1 “most attractive” nation for renewable energy investment, knocking the U.S. out of the top spot. Thanks to Republicans helping out their BP buddies, investors are now directing their money to China rather than the United States.
If pro-corporate poliiticians (mostly Republican, but also some Democrats) had not blocked proposals for reduced reliance on fossil fuels, America could have benefited from significant investment in renewable energy, as well as the good, stable jobs such investment can bring. Although China has similarly opposed emission caps, the Chinese government has taken affirmative steps to actively engage with renewable energy and subsidize production. If Republican administrations had not gutted federal investment in clean energy, we may not have been in this situation in the first place. America’s green infrastructure would have maintained its strength and manufacturing jobs would never have left our shores.
And it Continues...
Some Republicans floated into office on a wave of misleading statements about green jobs in China, and the party appears to be perpetuating the policies that created that condition. Newly-elected Republicans have taken a pledge to oppose climate change legislation, putting the interests of corporate polluters above those of Americans, further hindering our ability to create green jobs, and sending even more investment and employment overseas.