Seeking to have an IMPACT on climate policy, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) formally introduced legislation this week to strengthen America’s efforts to cut emissions and build a prosperous clean energy economy. The Ohio Democrat’s efforts to advance new investment in clean energy technologies and manufacturing are critical, and are consistent with the Breakthrough Institute’s recommendations to make clean energy cheap.

By Jesse Jenkins and Johanna Peace

Recently, Sen. Sherrod Brown refused to accept a climate bill that would simply send both emissions and U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas — inaccurately earning him a label as a “threat” to the passage of federal energy and climate legislation. This week, the Ohio Democrat formally introduced legislation to strengthen America’s efforts to both cut emissions and build a prosperous clean energy economy: the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act of 2009.

“We can revive American manufacturing through investments in clean energy,” Brown said. “This bill will help our manufacturers retool, put our auto suppliers back to work, and produce clean energy technologies.”

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The bill would create a two-year, $30 billion revolving loan fund to help small and medium-sized American manufacturers to improve the manufacturing process and increase their production of clean energy parts and systems. The IMPACT Act would also directly invest $1.5 billion over five years to help guide manufacturers into clean energy markets and streamline their implementation of new manufacturing technologies and methods through the Manufacturing Extension Program, a division of the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As part of a crucial block of swing legislators in the Senate, Brown has long been a vocal supporter of effective climate policy that would make clean energy cheap by directly investing in new technologies, accelerating the deployment of existing clean energy sources–and most importantly to Senator Brown, creating new clean energy jobs in the American Heartland along the way.

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Senator Brown’s efforts to advance new investments in clean energy technologies and manufacturing are critical, and IMPACT is consistent with Breakthrough’s recommendations to make clean energy cheap. As Breakthrough advocates:

Direct federal funding should … be provided to retool the nation’s industrial heartland, train a skilled clean energy workforce, and ensure American factories and workers are commercializing and building the clean, cheap energy technologies that will power a prosperous 21st century economy. Innovative, advanced manufacturing techniques can drive significant improvements in the price and performance of clean energy technologies, making investments to support cutting-edge U.S. manufacturing a critical component of a strategy to make clean energy cheap.

In its April “Green Manufacturing Action Plan,” the Apollo Alliance laid the foundation for IMPACT by outlining a series of aggressive steps to boost American production of energy systems and components.

According to an Apollo press release, “70 percent of America’s clean and efficient energy systems are currently produced abroad, including half of the country’s existing wind turbines and all transformers for the electrical grid.”

Apollo Alliance Chairman Phil Angelides joined Brown at the announcement of IMPACT, saying:

“Without a program to support our own domestic manufacturers, policies that create new demand for clean energy will just lead to more imports. It is critical that Congress enact legislation that provides direct and substantial investment in clean energy component manufacturing to ensure that jobs are created in the U.S., and to wean us from our dependence on other nations to meet our energy needs.”

It’s true: America is lagging in the heightening global clean energy race — and it’s not just our competitors in Europe that are gaining the upper hand. The US now lags behind several East Asian nations on clean energy manufacturing as well.

In 2007, the U.S. manufactured just one-third of what China produced in both wind turbines and solar PV. And a full 85% of the world’s lithium ion batteries are produced in China, South Korea, or Japan. That’s a disturbing picture for those like Senator Brown, who worry that valuable jobs in the clean energy manufacturing sector will be created overseas, and stay there.

Legislation like Brown’s IMPACT bill is a critical component of any federal climate and energy strategy and contrasts with the House’s Waxman-Markey climate bill, which as currently drafted, would invest little in building America’s clean tech production capacity. Direct public investment is necessary to jump-start a robust clean energy manufacturing sector that will ensure the US gains a secure foothold in a burgeoning (and lucrative) global industry. Otherwise, our wind turbines and solar panels — like so many other products that sustain our economy — will continue to bear the label “Made in China.”

If you’d like to support the IMPACT clean energy manufacturing investment bill, our friends at the Apollo Alliance have an action opportunity here.

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