Greening the Rustbelt

Publication: The Economist

08/13/2009 - Xunlight Corporation, a small manufacturer of solar panels, sits on a quiet street in Toledo. It has a professor as its president, about 100 employees on its payroll—and a lot of bigwig visitors. In October 2008 Sarah Palin, then the Republican vice-presidential candidate, used Xunlight as the setting for a speech on energy policy. Other guests have included Ohio’s governor, two senators and a congresswoman. And no wonder: the firm provided evidence to support a seductive hope, that the green economy can help to revive the suffering rustbelt.

As the battle over a cap-and-trade bill continues in Congress, the industrial Midwest finds itself playing an awkward role. The climate bill offers two big opportunities, to reduce global warming and boost the green economy in the process. And nowhere are green jobs more loudly promoted than in the rustbelt. On August 5th Barack Obama and Joe Biden, his vice-president, travelled to Indiana and Michigan, two ailing swing states, to announce new grants to develop electric cars. But hopes for those new green jobs are matched by fears that traditional ones will be lost. With the Senate due to debate a cap-and-trade bill next month, the rustbelt and its politicians are at the heart of the battle.


Green investment presents new hope. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Centre for American Progress, a think-tank, estimated in June that the federal stimulus package and a climate bill would spur about $150 billion in spending on clean energy each year for the next decade. That spending, in turn, would create an estimated 2.5m jobs, from academic researchers to factory workers making wind turbines. “This is an opportunity for American ingenuity to renew the manufacturing base,” argues Phyllis Cuttino of the Environment Group at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Read the full article Greening the Rustbelt on The Economist's Web site.

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