Ohio’s Fossil Fuel Boom Dims Wind and Solar Development

natural gas-pad-west-virginia
Laser-graded, table flat drilling pads being constructed atop the steep Appalachian ridges on both sides of the upper Ohio River. Photo/Keith Schneider

The story of American energy used to be we use too much. There’s not enough. And a technical breakthrough in clean alternatives will save us.

How 20th century. The new narrative – really, it’s true — of American energy is this: We’re using less. A national boom in oil and gas production, engulfing 12 states from California to Pennsylvania and North Dakota to Texas, is showing we have much more than we thought. And the clean energy economy, tiny by comparison and roiled by uncertain markets, is still decades away.

In no state are these trends colliding with more immediacy right now than in Ohio, which for years has been a modest oil and gas producer, and not long ago was widely viewed as a leader in passing legislation, promoting jobs, and installing  manufacturing for a clean energy economy.

Over the last year, though, everything in Ohio’s energy sector, like the nation’s, has changed. At night, on both sides of the upper Ohio River valley south of Pittsburgh, floodlights illuminate the laser-graded, table flat summits of steep Appalachian ridges that now serve as production pads for natural gas wells and processing plants (see pix from West Virginia side of river above). Drilling rigs 18 stories tall are starting to tap huge reserves beneath 17,000 square miles of eastern and central Ohio, beneath which lie two layers of deep gas and oil-bearing shale.

Big Production Results From First Wells
Early production results from Columbiana, Carroll, Harrison, and Belmont counties show the first completed wells are capable of producing millions of cubic feet of gas and over 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Families are signing drilling leases that pay up to $5,800 an acre. Nearly $2 billion in new gas processing and transport facilities have been announced for sites in the Ohio River Valley. The economy of the 145 miles of river from Pittsburgh to Marietta, for two generations a laboratory of industrial ruin, is perking up.

“It’s fantastic what this could do for this region,” said Sharon Davis, who owns a restaurant in Sardis, Ohio and recently earned up to $5,250 an acre for the 168 acres of minerals she and her family own in Monroe County.

Meanwhile, a plan to build an offshore windfarm in Lake Erie, near Cleveland, has faltered. Another proposal to build a big wind farm in western Ohio was fought to a standstill by local residents, who filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. In January one of the state’s prominent solar manufacturing companies laid off half its workforce, and the chairman and founder of a second solar company resigned, leaving a skeletal staff and big debts. Cardinal Fastener, the Cleveland company that supplied bolts to wind turbine manufacturers, and which was visited by President-elect Obama in January 2009, declared bankruptcy last June, laid off most of the staff, and then was bought in November by a German manufacturer.

“The energy picture has changed dramatically,” said Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “The price of electrical power is low. The price of natural gas is low. It’s changed the thinking on all alternative technologies. It’s affecting solar. You could say it’s taking the wind out of wind.”

It wasn’t very long ago, 2008 in fact, that clean energy production, and the development of a manufacturing sector to support it, represented a cogent business plan for Ohio, and other states interested in developing new jobs and contributing answers to environmental pollution and risks to national security.  President Obama ran on a platform that responded to rising gas prices and industrial obsolescence with a clean energy, good jobs message.

A National Clean Energy Drive Slows
Four years later the president’s energy goals, like this state’s, reflect a convergence of technology, market opportunities, politics (“drill baby drill”) and policy that has elevated fossil fuel production to a top economic priority and weakened the glow of clean energy.

President Obama now talks about an “all of the above” energy strategy, as he did in January in the State of the Union, when he hailed the fossil fuel sector for generating more natural gas than ever before and for relying “less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.”  Weeks later the president dispatched Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to Ohio to tour a manufacturing plant that is adding jobs to build the bulk tank trailers used to haul millions of gallons water to drill sites to hydro-frack the nation’s deep oil and gas-bearing shales.

In the geography of Ohio’s energy sector, the contrast between the sagging fortunes of clean energy manufacturing and the boom in the fossil fuel industry is striking. In 2008, Ohio approved a renewable energy law that required utilities to purchase 25 percent of their power by 2025 from renewable and advanced energy sources. In 2010, the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest (ELPC), a Chicago-based nonprofit, counted 106 Ohio companies involved in supplying components for the wind industry, 63 supplying materials to the solar industry, and 7,500 workers in the state’s clean energy sector.

Today, noone in state government or the private sector is sure how many clean energy companies and jobs are still around in Ohio.  Almost everybody agrees the sector is struggling. “There isn’t one big thing influencing the market here,” said Robert Kelter, a senior attorney in ELPC’s Columbus office. “There are a lot of factors. There’s been a change in administration in Ohio. The Legislature wants to change the renewable energy law. There are other setbacks that lead to delay and layoffs. It’s hurting the industry.”

It’s not that Ohio has stopped generating power from new renewable energy installations. Iberdrola Renewables is getting ready to open a 304-megawatt wind farm in western Ohio, where another company opened a 100-megawatt wind farm last year. A 50-megawatt solar installation is planned for southern Ohio, along with a manufacturing plant that wants to build the solar panels in a new factory in Toledo.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reported this month that 1,855 megawatts of new photovoltaic capacity was installed in the U.S. last year, more than double the 887 megawatts installed in 2010.  The American Wind Energy Association said that U.S. utilities installed 6,810 megawatts of wind capacity in 2011, a 31% increase from 2011.

Clean Energy Companies Falter
But Ohio solar energy manufacturers, like others in the West – the Solyndra failure in California last year has become a presidential campaign issue — are going out of business. Wind energy suppliers are laying off workers. Competition from foreign manufacturers, from low prices for natural gas, which is steadily replacing coal as a favored fuel for electrical generation, and from uncertainty in renewing the federal production tax credit for wind power are blamed.

Iberdrola Renewables laid off 50 of its 900-member staff in January and the company’s executives say an amendment to Ohio’s renewable energy law would make it much harder to finance new wind farms in the state. The proposal, which Republican Governor John Kasich supports, would enable AK Steel, an Ohio steelmaker, to use state renewable energy credits to develop electricity from waste gases from its blast furnace. The co-generation project, notes Eric Thumma, Iberdrola’s director of policy and regulatory affairs, is itself fueled in part by non-renewable natural gas.

AK Steel’s co-generation technology, the company asserts, fits into clean and renewable energy development in Ohio. The U.S. Department of Energy has already approved a $30 million grant for the project. Gov. Kasich, who has introduced a new state energy plan that emphasizes fossil fuel production, has said repeatedly that using waste heat or gases from industrial processes to generate electricity should qualify for renewable energy credits.

But there is already more than enough wind energy online and planned, says Thumma, to soak up the available credits. The AK Steel project would add 100 megawatts of new power to the already saturated market and essentially render the renewable credits worthless. “It will crash the market for wind as a renewable energy in Ohio,” said Thumma.

Contrast the unsettled economic geography of Ohio’s renewable energy industry with the massing industrialization by the state’s fossil fuel sector. Some $3 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is being spent on drilling and production, pipeline construction and supply chain manufacturing to serve the fossil fuel sector.  One new steel plant is opening in Youngstown, and three others in Lorain and Canton are expanding to meet demand for drilling pipe and other equipment made of steel in and outside Ohio.

Contrasting Economic Landscapes
It takes a lot of steel to tap Ohio’s 4,000-foot deep Marcellus shale, and 2,000 feet below it, the Utica shale.  Geologists in state government say the Marcellus contains trillions of recoverable feet of natural gas, a good deal of it so-called wet gas that produces ethane, propane, and other compounds that can be easily processed into valuable fuels and feed stock chemicals for rubber and plastics. Royal Dutch Shell, this month, announced that an upper Ohio River site, just across the state border, in Monaca, Pa. is its favored site to build a multi-billion dollar plant to convert natural gas to ethylene and other feed stock chemicals.

The Utica shale may be even more valuable, say state geologists, because it holds 15.7 trillion cubic feet of gas, and 5.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil. As of March 11, the state had issued 172 drilling permits, all but 13 for the Utica play, and 57 wells had been drilled, using the horizontal drilling and hydro-fracking.

The two drilling and production technologies, using millions of gallons of water shot down long wells at super high pressure, has stirred safety, health, and environmental concerns in Ohio and other energy-producing states. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting a comprehensive assessment, confirmed last year that drinking water wells in Wyoming were contaminated by racking. The Colorado School of Public Health in March issued a report that found air pollution from the heavy equipment used in fracking may contribute to “acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.”

Gov. Kasich insists that Ohio is prepared for the onslaught and ready to limit the risks. Two years ago the state strengthened the law that oversees operations in the oilfield. “You cannot degrade the environment at the same time you’re producing this industry,” said Kasich in January. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not a false choice. The biggest companies know that you need tough environmental rules.”

Because fracking requires so much water, a good deal of which comes back to the surface contaminated with hydrocarbons and chemicals, wastewater disposal from the oilfield is a big challenge. Ohio requires the wastewater to be recycled or disposed in deep injection wells.

This month, in a step that seemed to confirm the governor’s pledge to be vigilant, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) imposed tough new regulations on the operators of the state’s 177 deep injection wastewater disposal wells. The new rules, prompted by earthquakes last year that were centered around a year-old injection well in Youngstown used to dispose of wastewater from hydro-fracked wells, will make Ohio’s Class II deep-injection wells among the most stringently monitored and regulated in the nation.

“We have the opportunity to get in front of the development with stricter rules,” said Trent Dougherty, staff attorney and director of legal affairs at the Ohio Environmental Council. “It’s only just getting started. We have a chance to oversee the industry better than other states have.”

State regulatory infrastructure will be tested in Ohio, as it is in other states. Similarly dense, hydrocarbon-rich shales lie beneath much of the rest of the country, and are being tapped at a frantic pace. Last year, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the number of oil and gas drilling rigs in operation across the U.S. reached an average of 1,865 a month. That is the highest rig count since 2008, according to the EIA. More than 20,000 oil wells were drilled in the U.S. in 2011, higher than any year since 1985.

High Percentages
The deep shales, moreover, are almost a can’t miss opportunity, Of the more than 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled in 2011, said the EIA, almost 90 percent produced marketable quantities of fuel. Natural gas production last year set a record, a third of it from deep shale, and in December oil production climbed to 5.88 million barrels per day, the highest since December 2001.

The consequences are profound to the nation’s energy security and economy, By 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. will be a major exporter of natural gas. By 2030 or so, U.S. oil and fuel imports as a share of total consumption are projected to fall to around 22 percent. To energy economists, that’s a number that defines energy security. “It’s happening very quickly and it’s for real,” said Kenneth B. Medlock, an energy and resource economist at the Baker Institute For Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, who organized a one-day conference of environmentalists, scientists, academics, and executives in January 2012 to explore the American fossil fuel boom.  “Increased supplies affect the balance of payments. It affects our geopolitical security. It has a lot of impact on reducing the cost of energy in manufacturing, making us much more competitive. It is, potentially, one of the most important economic events of the last 50 years.”

From the ridge summits high above the upper Ohio, on an unseasonably warm day late in a winter that wasn’t, some of the equally profound risks of perpetuating America’s fossil fuel economy also are visible. The growl of bulldozers clearing trees for new roads and drill pads can be heard across a landscape that consists of miles of unbroken forests and is now being fragmented. Wide and muddy corridors have been cut up and down steep hillsides for pipelines that gather natural gas for transport to processing stations. Erosion is increasing and pouring mud into the region’s streams. Big trucks, pouring diesel exhaust into the air, strain in low gear to haul equipment and frack water up narrow roads with such acute grades that in the West Virginia gasfield near Martinsville, authorities require they be escorted to limit traffic accidents.

Certainly the new energy comes with economic benefits, and a new era of reckoning for the little towns that hug the river long accustomed to having no pace other than the passing of old people to the grave and young people moving out. Motels and campgrounds are full with skilled oilfield workers from Ohio and other states. Restaurants are busy. But many people, even those who’ve gained new jobs in the industry, or reaped windfalls from their mineral rights, are nervous.  “Things will change now,” said Sharon Davis, the restaurant owner in Sardis. “We know that.”

An edited version of the article was posted by Yale Environment 360 on March 29, 2012.

— Keith Schneider

Obama’s 80 Percent Clean Energy Goal: Who’s He Kidding?


Arguably the central provision of President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was the proposal to generate 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 — including nuclear energy and CCS coal technology. Getting there will take a miracle, the same sort of pie in the sky thinking that allowed our president to also present the daft notion of  giving 80 percent of Americans access to high speed rail by 2035. This in a country that last built a great rail station over a century ago.

Both ideas, of course, fit neatly into the necessary big box of ideas that can generate the innovation, imagination, inspiration, and transition-era job growth that rebuilds the American economy, and especially the “be all you can be” contract with its people.

But neither is likely to happen. To achieve either goal will take a sharp shift in the political geography on the right and the left, as well as much larger public investments in innovation and financing than the country has been willing to make to date. In an era of fierce and fast-paced transition prompted by the new markets of the 21st century, Americans have expressed time and again their resistance to doing anything more than staying firmly in place. I’ve begun to call our predicament the “amber alert” because we’re so determined to wrap our personal gains and communities in amber.

Republican governors in the Midwest, for instance, want to give back the federal high speed rail construction money made available last year, and are governing against the clean energy investments that have helped turn solar, wind components, and lithium-ion battery manufacturing into the fastest growing new industrial sectors in Ohio and Michigan.

Let’s quickly evaluate the 80 percent electrical generation goal. To achieve 80 percent clean energy generation essentially means replacing at least 500 gigawatts of conventional coal-fired generation with cleaner alternatives. In essence, the U.S. would have to nearly completely rebuild its electrical generating infrastructure, which last year had about 940 gigawatts of electricial generating capacity. By 2035, according to DOE projections, electrical generating demand in the U.S. could grow to 1,200 gigawatts. Today less than a quarter of electrical generating capacity is supplied by nuclear power, hydro, wind, and geothermal in the U.S or roughly 225 gigs.

To date the nation has indicated no proclivity to launch a crash program for clean energy investment. The $100 billion provided in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, now threatened by the Republican House majority, is merely a down payment. In fact, the largest energy investment in the nation is being made to drill, mine, process, and transport the unconventional oil and gas reserves being tapped in the middle part of the country.

Moreover, while the right discounts the science of climate change and expresses skepticism about the costs of clean energy subsidies, the grassroots left is digging in to fight clean energy projects of scale. Opposition campaigns are occurring in at least 35 states and focus on every available alternative — wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and nuclear. Here in Benzie and Manistee counties where I live in northern Michigan, a $330 million proposal by Duke Energy to build 112 wind turbines is the focus of a fear-based opposition campaign that includes scientifically unfounded assertions that the turbine blades generate dangerous sound waves that can cause farm animals to spontaneously abort.

The country that is responding to the new energy market opportunities of the 21st century is China, which commands nearly all of those very same markets. I just returned from a long reporting trip to China for Circle of Blue, the first-rate independent news organization that covers the freshwater crisis. (See pix above of Ordos, Inner Mongolia) I serve there as senior editor. I visited the largest clean energy industrial park in the world in Gansu Province, as well as some of the largest steel plants, solar farms, and coal mines.

China has set a goal to drive their clean energy diversification program for electrical production — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, IGGC — from 200 gigawatts currently to over 630 gigs by 2020. The breakdown by 2020 looks like this: wind (150 gigs), solar (20 gigs), nuclear (60 gigs), hydro (400 gigs).

Still, because of China’s rapidly growing demand for energy — total energy consumption has tripled since 1995, reaching over 100 quadrillion BTUs this year from 35 quads 15 years ago — coal will still be responsible for more than 70 percent of total electrical supply, a little less than it is today.

All that energy supports the world’s largest markets for steel, glass, cement, energy, cars, residential construction, nuclear and coal-fired power plant construction, hydro dam construction, highways, high-speed rail, and a dozen other critical products  of modern society. China’s transportation infrastructure has surpassed the United States, as have its grade school students, now the best in the world.

Americans note that China’s political economy is founded on a system that has no veto power. The country acts on what it decides regardless of public opinion. But you have to wonder whether there are facets of that system that are more fit for the time. China also produced 70 million new jobs in the last decade and the incomes of 400 million people are rising, in contrast to diminishing job numbers and steadily declining incomes in the U.S.

President Obama set out worthy goals last night to light at least a spark of national motivation to fix America. But moving forward on any idea of real significance is so difficult he declined to lay out even the most modest specific steps. You wonder whether a quarter century from now a U.S. president will still be able to say, “And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.”

— Keith Schneider

For Climate Activists, Nowhere To Go But Forward


There’s nothing like confronting the big fist of climate denial in Congress to decide new tactics are needed to cool the planet. In the past week, U.S. climate activists shook off the national election’s punch to the gut and began delivering a few jabs of their own.

This week in California, outgoing Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the formation of a clean energy financing program to commercialize technologies, reduce carbon emissions, and generate renewable energy. Schwarzenegger described the “R20” global program during his third and last Governors’ Global Climate Summit, which attracted representatives from 80 countries. The public-private partnership of 20 “metropolitan, state, and subnational” governments will also enact comprehensive low-carbon policies within five years.

Other than planning to write a book Schwarzenegger hasn’t mentioned any other pursuit after leaving Sacramento in January. Don’t be surprised to see him in a prominent national and global climate action role. His interest in reducing carbon emissions and growing the clean energy industry is keen and authentic.

Next month, California’s proposal to become the first state in the country to cap and trade greenhouse gases within the state, starting in 2012, is scheduled to become law. This fall, Schwarzenegger joined greens and former Secretary of State George Schultz to convince voters to soundly reject the oil industry-financed Proposition 23, which would have suspended A.B. 32, California’s global warming law. “Prop 23 was the largest clean energy referendum in history,” Schwarzenegger said yesterday. “The oil companies flexed their muscles, trying to overturn our environmental law. We flexed back.”

Scientists also decided this week to join the fray. The American Geophysical Union, the country’s largest association of climate scientists, said on Monday that 700 researchers have agreed to push back against their critics. One of the leaders, John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, is developing a rapid response group that includes three dozen leading scientists to support the consensus on global climate change.  The group is almost certain to be busy, the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out this week, since climate-science denying conservatives are taking over the House and “the misinformation is now coming from the very people charged with solving the problem,”

Not to be outdone in the opening of what could be a new era of climate stridency, one of the country’s green titan organizations has decided it’s going to be a lot less polite in its climate advocacy. Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund,  said on the Huffington Post that his organization is re-evaluating its tactical approach to climate action. “It is time to sharpen the nation’s focus on the businesses that obstruct vital progress,” Krupp wrote. “For EDF, that means our historic interest in cooperation over confrontation will be recalibrated.”

— Keith Schneider

U.S. Election Casts Long Shadow On Climate Action

New Apollo Program, Ted Strickland, Clean Energy

Tuesday’s election wasn’t a complete rejection of climate action and the promise of the low-carbon economy. Indeed, in the decisive defeat of California’s Proposition 23 and the re-election of Senator Barbara Boxer, both ideas have salience in the nation’s largest state. Nevada Senator Harry Reid was re-elected and his party retained control of the Senate with several races still undecided.

In deciding to outspend the oil industry by a three-to-one margin, investors and executives in California’s clean energy and clean-tech companies succeeded in defeating Prop 23, which would have suspended California’s four-year-old climate action law, and hurt the state’s expanding market for clean energy and energy efficiency tools and practices. Now that the battle is won, California will continue to attract billions of dollars in research and start-up funding and retain its stature as one of the world’s principle centers of clean energy innovation.

Moreover, along with Democratic Senator Boxer’s victory, which appears to ensure she retains the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, another climate advocate, Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown, was elected governor.

Big Message: Dissatisfaction
The unmistakable outcome of the mid-term election, though, was frustration about the economy. What’s not as clear, said many climate and environmental advocates, was how much of a dark shadow that cast on climate action politics and clean energy development. “There was no mandate on turning back the clock on environmental protection. Polls galore show continued and strong public support for making continued progress to protect our health and boost our economy,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. “Americans want us to unleash our ingenuity to develop clean-energy alternatives while combating climate change.”

There is no doubt, though, that achieving those goals got harder. Republicans, too many of them campaigning on messages that denied the scientific authenticity of climate change, and raising doubts about the cost of moving away from fossil fuels, swept House races, gaining 60 seats. Republican in the next Congress will have a 239-196 majority.

Politico reported this morning that at least 30 Democratic House members who voted for the 2009 House cap and trade bill were defeated. The White House, though, asserted that many of those races involved freshman Democratic lawmakers who’d won in 2008 in traditionally Republican districts.

The NRDC looked at the results from a different perspective and concluded that of the Democrats who voted for the House energy and climate bill who were up for re-election, 162 out of 195, or 83 percent won or are winning. Of the Democrats who voted against the bill and were up for re-election, 21 out of 36, or 58 percent lost.

Republican candidates in every region also criticized the $100 billion in clean energy, efficiency, and rail investments in the 2009 stimulus as an ill-advised government gambit to “pick winners and losers.” Voter tallies in every region except California clearly indicated that message also resonated. Virginia Democratic Representative Rick Boucher, a ranking member running for his 15th term, lost to Republican Morgan Griffith, who persistently raised” the stimulus and Rep Boucher’s cap and trade vote as a threat to the state’s coal mining industry.

Florida Republican Charlie Crist, who as governor encouraged solar and the alternative energy development as a safeguard to climate change, was soundly beaten in the Senate race by Tea Party candidate Marco Rubio, a clean energy opponent who denies industrialization is warming the planet. Minnesota Democratic Representative James Oberstar, an 18-term lawmaker, a premier public transit and rail advocate, and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was beaten by a Tea Party candidate, Chip Cravaack.

And in Ohio, Democratic Governor Ted Strickland (speaking in pix above from a 2009 Apollo Alliance news conference), who led his state through a grueling effort to approve one of the nation’s best renewable energy standards and prompted billions in new manufacturing sector development in wind and solar markets, was defeated by former Republican Representative John Kasich. Kasich vowed during the campaign to roll back the renewable standard.

As I’ve noted, next year will be tough for climate action in Congress and the states. There may be some relief in knowing that a few House climate bill supporters won close races, including Democrats Brad Miller of North Carolina and and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

“Speaking of the lion’s den – he did this in the heart of Kentucky, a leading coal producer,” said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for conservation and education at the National Wildlife Federation.

— Keith Schneider

Michigan’s Unsung Clean Energy Success

Michigan clean energy development and success story

Given the dearth of new economic strategies that make sense and actually work, it’s appropriate to again take note of what’s happening here in my home state of Michigan around clean energy development. The more you think about it, the clearer the significance of what Governor Jennifer Granholm (with the president in pix above at July 15 groundbreaking of a new lithium-ion battery plant in West Michigan) has accomplished becomes clearer and clearer.

In short, one of the important and unsung low-carbon economy success stories in the United States, one that’s been shaped by a fortunate convergence of state and federal investment, is rapidly taking shape in Michigan. More than 40 new plants have been built, are under construction, or approaching ground-breaking to manufacture components for wind and solar energy, and to scale up Michigan’s electric vehicle sector, particularly the construction of new manufacturing plants to make dense, powerful lithium ion batteries.

Some $9 billion has been invested — $6 billion for next generation electric vehicles, $3 billion for solar, wind, and other energy alternatives – which represents a mix of private capital, state tax incentives, and federal grants from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Gov. Granholm asserts that the first phase of the state’s industrial redevelopment already has produced over 3,000 new jobs and will soon produce 86,000 more.

Senate Failure, Michigan Advances
This morning, just days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that action on a proposed Oil disaster response  bill would not occur at least until September, and advocates worried it may not happen at all, Gov. Granholm appeared at a clean energy briefing in Washington at the Center For American Progress. She was asked what she would do to advance comprehensive national climate and energy legislation.

“We have to get off the debate about whether global warming is occurring,” said the two-term Democratic governor. “We have to talk about jobs.”

She added: “Assume that the 132 countries that made commitments to cut their emissions are serious. Assume that those countries have analyzed the jobs that are inherent to do that. Then the best argument is about jobs for America. We need all kinds of jobs for all kinds of people. We are turning our back on this opportunity. Let’s just talk about the opportunity for jobs.”

Over the last eight weeks, as the work to achieve a comprehensive national climate and energy policy devolved from President Obama’s “new national mission” to no bill at all, the reasons for the collapse have been turned over and again like a compost pile.

It’s Jobs Stupid
The environmental community mounted a multi-faceted campaign in and outside Washington to accomplish its goal of cooling the planet. It hasn’t worked at the federal level. Gov. Granholm’s advice is to focus on heating up the economy.

We ought to think hard about embracing the counsel more than we have. Michigan has served for years as a warning sign for the economic and social dysfunction that occurs when major industries and government utterly fail to keep pace with changing markets. It still has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Yet since the signing of the federal stimulus bill in February 2009, the state has emerged, arguably, as the nation’s clearest example of the real progress that can be made in job growth, modernization, and carbon emissions reductions when industry and government collaborate to command a new market.

In a nation where people care most about either finding or hanging on to a good job, isn’t that the best way to reach voters and the political leaders who represent them?

— Keith Schneider