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The Industrial Policy America Needs

Exploring industrial plans that drive down emissions while creating good jobs.

Industrial
iStock/SeventyFour

America is making things again. In truth, we never stopped making things, we just made less and less.

For decades, we sent production overseas to countries that make things cheaper by cutting corners, taking advantage of workers and allowing greater amounts of pollution to seep into the world’s waters and air. As this went on, jobs left U.S. communities, devastating families across the country as the rich got richer. But luckily, the story didn’t end there. Under the Biden administration, finally, we are seeing, real, thoughtful efforts to correct this decades-long trend, and those efforts are already working. 

Earlier this week, I attended a speech by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm detailing the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) industrial strategy. Secretary Granholm laid out the four-pillar approach to the department’s strategy, explaining how these moving parts work together to support domestic manufacturing:

  • Reduce emissions
  • Create and sustain high-quality jobs
  • Ensure maximum benefits to communities
  • Promote fairness, diversity and inclusion in the clean energy economy

Approaching our industrial sector with a holistic vision of how to drive down emissions while creating good jobs, protecting and supporting local communities while bringing manufacturing back and preparing the skilled workforce we need to build the technology of the future while ensuring space for the workers who have kept our lights on for decades, is integral to the success of any industrial plan for the U.S.

We can’t deny that industrial emissions are a huge portion of our nation’s total emissions. We can’t deny the impact that industrial pollution has on the health of local communities, disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income communities. We can’t deny that offshoring has led to devastation in manufacturing towns across the country. We can’t deny that while the U.S. is still inventing the technology of the future, we’ve ceded the ability to actually manufacture that technology to other countries. 

So, what do we do? We follow the thoughtfully constructed plan laid out by Secretary Granholm. We weigh community benefits heavily when awarding federal financing to projects. We require labor protections. We prioritize government agencies working together to ensure that projects create good jobs and address public health considerations. We incentivize domestic production of U.S. innovations. We harness the power of policy for good.

The Biden administration has demonstrated time and time again that they understand this concept, and their efforts are already paying off. DOE alone is directly investing more than $100 billion in grants and loans towards clean energy demonstration and deployment, which has likewise drawn massive private investment totaling nearly $400 billion to $180 billion of which is being invested in clean energy manufacturing alone.

That’s significant progress, in just a few years. If the U.S. industrial sector is ever to shine with the brightness that once illuminated middle-class communities across the nation, we need to see this strategy through. We need to put American workers and families first. We need to double down on making things in America and making them well. 

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Jason Walsh is the Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA). In that role, he provides overall leadership and management of the organization in accordance with the strategic direction set by the Board of Directors.

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