As we head into the fall political season, lawmakers and candidates of all stripes will be talking about the public’s primary concern – jobs. But just because some lawmakers will be using the word “jobs” a lot doesn’t mean they actually have a plan for creating them.
Take House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). On Monday, he sent a memo to his GOP colleagues about what he called his “jobs agenda.” But the memo wasn’t really about jobs, it was a list of regulations the Tea Party types have been targeting all year. Eight of the eleven listed were environmental safeguards.
In Cantor’s alternate universe, it’s not the global financial crisis that is slowing job growth. It is the Environmental Protection Agency. Sure, the agency has been around for 40 years, during which the economy has expanded significantly.
Nonetheless, Cantor still believes the solution for unemployment is to stop asking polluters to clean up their garbage. Why, 40 years after the Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Nixon, have environmental safeguards become the economic bogeyman all of a sudden? For the same reason the Tea Party hammered on about the debt ceiling for months. And for the same reason every GOP candidate expends a lot of hot air denying climate change.
They don’t know how to solve the big problem voters care most about: job creation. They don’t know how to get Americans back to work. It’s much easier to talk about hot-button issues that get the radical parts of the base riled up: Government overreach! Towering deficit! A false climate conspiracy! If the base gets really incensed, they might not realize that the Emperor has no jobs.
I get it. Governing is hard work, and climbing out of a global recession is even harder. But we can’t abide the sideshow tactics when so many Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. And we especially can’t do it when the so-called plan will actually endanger the health of American families.
All this grandstanding rhetoric about “job-destroying” regulations obscures two terribly important truths. First, environmental and public health protections save people’s lives. The updated safeguard for mercury Cantor was complaining about would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 asthma attacks among children each year. The smog standard he cited could save up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year.
Second, cleaning up our air and producing greener energy actually can create jobs. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, more than 2.7 million Americans work in the clean economy. That includes people who stop raw sewage from going into our beaches, install scrubbers in power plant smokestacks, and generate clean energy.
Those numbers will only grow. Jobs in the wind and solar sectors have grown by 10 to 18 percent every year for the past eight years, even during the recession, according to Brookings.
The lithium battery industry is also expanding like crazy. These batteries power your smart phone, but they also make hybrids and electric cars go farther. According to New York Times article. American companies produced less than 2 percent of the global market for advanced batteries in 2009. By 2015, 40 percent of the world’s supply could be made in America. I went to Michigan during my summer vacation, and I saw what the newspaper described: abandoned factories every five miles. But the lithium battery industry is providing an alternative to Rust Belt blight. It’s putting Americans to work, but it’s also putting our nation on path toward leadership. Whoever figures out how to make cars and electronic be cleaner, more efficient, and cheaper will dominate one of the biggest markets of this century.
This kind of industry growth provides a positive agenda for the future. I challenge the GOP and the Tea Party to come up with something constructive. They keep talking about what they want to tear down—clean air safeguards, taxes, deficit spending. But what do they want to build? Even if they don’t have a job creation plan figured out, I would like to see them offer something affirmative for a change.