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Reviews | Can the Democrats already claim that the fight against climate change creates jobs?

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For years, Liberals have argued that investing in climate change programs could also create modern, well-paying jobs. They called one of their most ambitious plans the Green New Deal, reminiscent of government investments that helped revive the US economy after the Great Depression. On the other side, the Conservatives have insisted that almost anything we do to deal with climate change will decimate the economy and impoverish the country.

Now that Democrats have actually passed a major climate bill — the Cut Inflation Act, which included $369 billion in climate investments — we’ll find out more obviously if they were right. Because now they can point to a concrete plan that tests the premise in the real world.

In short, if and when green jobs are created, Democrats should be able to take a victory lap. But that begs a question: Can Democrats seize the populist pitch by arguing that they are proving to be the party of manufacturing jobs — that is, green energy jobs — of the future?

They are already starting to try. The Biden administration is touting recent good news on the clean energy and industrial policy front:

  • First Solar said Tuesday it would spend $1 billion to build a production plant in the Southeast and spend another $185 million to expand operations in Ohio. In an announcement, the company explicitly cited the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • Honda and LG have announced plans to build a $4.4 billion battery manufacturing plant somewhere in the United States, likely in Ohio, with construction starting early next year. They cited increased demand for electric vehicles, which the IRA seeks to promote. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year also contains incentives for the production of electric batteries.
  • Corning said on Tuesday it would build a facility in Arizona to manufacture fiber optic cables in anticipation of the large public investment from the infrastructure bill, which earmarked $42 billion for broadband expansion. .

The White House explicitly cites such announcements — and again, it’s about renewable energy — as a sign that the administration is committed to creating good blue-collar jobs.

There are signs that Democrats in tough Senate races are also starting to lean into the argument that investments in green energy will fund the manufacturing jobs of the future.

For example, Representative Tim Ryan, who is running against Republican JD Vance for the Ohio Senate, lambasted Vance’s opposition to subsidizing electric vehicle manufacturing in the state.

“It’s good for manufacturing, good for jobs, good for the environment, good for Ohio,” Ryan said recently, describing Vance as “absolutely clueless.”

Ryan touted the Biden plan’s tax incentives to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, saying it would lead to more such vehicles being made in Ohio, as well as batteries being made for them. And Ryan argued that local jobs making solar panels were “Ohio’s future,” while pushing for more money for job training for those workers.

It’s not immediately obvious how Republicans can counter that. Vance argued that subsidies for electric vehicles would only benefit wealthy customers (Ryan counters that workers also drive electric vehicles) and suggested that relying on green jobs will weaken us against China.

But that’s a lot like trying to put populist lipstick on the old GOP pig that opposes government spending on job creation, because it’s “picking winners and losers.” He feels trapped in old GOP ideologies, which is hard to reconcile with Vance’s populist claims to be more pro-labor than the GOP has traditionally been.

Meanwhile, Mandela Barnes, the Democrat challenging GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, has offered a variation on this approach. Barnes recounts how the Clean Air Act of 1970 emissions standards increased the demand for catalytic converters for cars and notes that his own father worked in a factory assembling them.

Barnes links this to the notion that investments in current green technologies can also be job-creating. The goal of “going to 100% renewable energy,” says Barnes, will create “well-paying jobs” in “clean energy manufacturing.”

And Barnes’ manufacturing plan calls for more investment in green energy jobs to compete with China’s green energy industries, calling those American jobs “the manufacturing of tomorrow.”

With the caveat that people rarely vote to affirm their approval of policies adopted by the presidential party, hopefully this will change some of the old paradigms. For a very long time, climate activists and Democrats have struggled with the perception of an inevitable zero-sum trade-off in which any climate action would necessarily require economic sacrifices.

But as Princeton University professor Jesse Jenkins argued, convincingly illustrating “the economic opportunity of the energy transition” could “fundamentally change climate politics.” Who knows, it might work.