Earlier this week, the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) convened key regional stakeholders and leaders from around the world for its Jobs and Energy Forum and announced a hopeful, forward-looking economic and environmental vision. The setting could not have been better suited to highlight the urgency with which these new initiatives are needed by both the Midwest and the nation as a whole. Detroit has been hit as hard as anywhere by the economic slump; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , unemployment in the greater Detroit metropolitan area hit 17 percent in August, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, in her remarks, noted that Michigan has lost close to a million jobs in a little less than a decade. Against this backdrop, many of the participants discussed the need for a new energy paradigm that addresses our economic, security, and environmental concerns. Even as the U.S. Senate prepares to tackle energy and climate legislation this fall, the Midwest made clear this week that it intends to move forward regardless of what happens in D.C.
Forum participants included regional, national, and international leaders from government, industry, agriculture, labor, NGOs, and other key stakeholder groups. The event marked the culmination of nearly two years of work initiated by Midwestern governors and the Premier of Manitoba in November 2007, and provided the venue for the unveiling of a trio of new documents outlining broad regional energy and job creation strategies:
Several key points emerged from the discussions in Detroit. First, the broad consensus reached by the group of stakeholders and the various states who participated in the creation of these energy and economic strategies is encouraging; it shows that there is broad support in the Midwest for smart energy policies that help address security concerns, stimulate economic development and job creation, and mitigate climate change and other environmental problems. Clearly, consensus on how to address these issues is possible even across diverse geographical and political lines.
Second, regardless of what happens to climate and energy legislation in Washington D.C., the states and regions are not letting up and will continue to move forward with their own policy solutions. The Midwest approach capitalizes on regional strengths and needs; for example, rural areas stand to benefit from increased development of wind and solar power as well as biofuels, and the Midwest, as a heavy user of coal and with suitable geology, is poised to be a leader in development of CCS technology. The policy packages unveiled in Detroit recognize these strengths and others, and are tailored appropriately.
Finally, the Midwest’s new strategies make it clear that these governors believe our climate and economic challenges are intertwined and cannot be tackled independently. Indeed, the experiences of other nations indicate dealing with both presents a double benefit. As Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen noted at the Forum, his country has made huge gains in renewable energy generation while creating jobs, keeping unemployment extremely low (currently at 3.7 percent) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – despite the fact that Denmark still generates a substantial amount of electricity using coal.
The message from Detroit was perhaps best expressed by Joan Ruddock, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Energy, and echoed by Governor Granholm in her closing remarks: there will be no return to the old, high-carbon economy, and the time has come to take courage and move forward in a manner that embraces low-carbon energy technologies. The Midwest is well on its way down this path, but now comes the hard part: these governors must now work with their legislatures and constituents to implement these initiatives.
Patrick Hogan is Regional Policy Coordinator