Midwest States Pursue Clean Energy and Jobs – and Highlight Role for Feds

The Midwest Governors Association (MGA) recently held a briefing in Washington for congressional and federal agency staff to highlight key regional developments in clean energy job creation. As the Senate prepares to take up energy legislation this summer, state government officials and representatives from business groups and environmental organizations in the Midwest described the progress they have made promoting renewable energy in order to create jobs, benefit the environment, and increase energy security.

The June 22 briefing focused on the region’s advances in renewable energy and job creation and its goals moving forward. The Midwest is central to the nation’s biofuels production.  As noted by Senator Mike Johanns from Nebraska, a former Chair of the MGA, Midwest states represent ten of the top twelve ethanol producers. 

Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a featured speaker at the event, highlighted some of his state’s achievements: the renewable energy sector provides nearly 20% of the state’s energy, generates $576 million in state tax revenue, and supports nearly 83,000 jobs – 2300 in wind turbine manufacturing alone. These successes offer an indication of the economic possibilities in a clean energy economy.

In order to expand these opportunities, the 2010 agenda set by the MGA’s chair, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, builds on the group’s platform for job creation and retention by focusing specifically on 1) increasing investment capital opportunities and 2) supporting workforce development in clean energy industries. Panelists underscored the importance of these two initiatives. Business leaders described how the number of potential renewable energy and energy efficiency projects currently outstrips available funding, while officials from Kansas described their collaboration with industry and community technical colleges to develop clean energy job credentialing programs.

While the focus of the event was the ongoing work at the state and regional level, participants repeatedly pointed to the important role of the federal government, which can either enhance or limit their efforts. During his remarks, Gov. Culver called on the federal government to enact a national renewable energy standard and ensure that tax credits and federal loans remain available for wind and solar energy. He also urged the federal government to ensure that regulatory and tax policies are in place to help states meet the targets of the renewable fuel standard, specifically mentioning the EPA’s delayed decision on ethanol blend limits and the expiration of the biodiesel tax credit. Federal inaction, he warned, could erode Iowa’s job gains.

Representatives from other states and the private sector voiced similar sentiments. Regulators pointed to the federal government’s unique ability to set national targets for renewable energy, which would increase capacity and drive research and development in new technologies on a scale that individual states cannot. The federal government can also eliminate existing barriers to state and regional innovation by resolving legal issues surrounding next generation technologies. Business representatives noted the importance of timely, clear signals from the federal government that would provide the stability and direction needed for long-term planning and investment.

The MGA and its members demonstrate the important role that states can play in accelerating the nation’s transition to a clean energy future – with its climate, environmental, economic, and security benefits – a role that could be enhanced by complementary federal policy.

Maggie Allan is a Solutions Intern