If the Senate is only going to embrace trade protectionism for clean energy , it's no better than worrying about the deficit only when unemployment benefits are at stake.
Now that Sen. Chuck Schumer wants to insist that all federal grants go to US-based wind manufacturing , it puts me in the awkward position of pointing out once again that such an extreme position is going to discourage the overseas companies who've already been creating more wind jobs in the US than there would have been otherwise, that it will undermine the stability and future of wind in the US, and will strengthen the hand of the heavily polluting coal industry.
Coal, let's remember, kills 11,000 Appalachian residents per year  by ruining their health, and that environmental pollution from sources including coal plants cost the US economy billions every year in children's health , alone.
With continued, steady investment, clean energy could be competitive with coal by 2030 , even without factoring in coal's tremendous costs to people whose homes are destroyed by mountaintop removal, or whose lungs are destroyed by breathing in coal pollution.
More, let's not be like Wall Street and think only about the next quarter at all times. While it's true that people need jobs today, people will need jobs tomorrow, as well.
It's just a fact that at some point, we're going to mine all our domestic coal, bearing in mind that both US coal reserves  and world coal reserves  have likely been significantly overstated, and then all the jobs that depend on it will be gone irrevocably and forever. Gone for good.
Unless our problems become much more serious than even the most pessimistic of us believe, the wind will blow and the sun will shine for billions of years to come. But we are definitely going to run out of those fossilized plants.
For now, it's important to create as many jobs as possible, but tanking the very promising wind industry for the fourth time in a decade, while discouraging foreign companies from investing here in the US, isn't the way to do it. In fact, it will just create more 'facts on the ground' to fuel the job creation fatalism of glibertarians like Megan McArdle :
... You see the same thing in every recession for the last twenty years, at least: as jobs get scarcer, employers get pickier about filling their positions. Programmer jobs that once demanded anyone with a pulse and a C++ manual now require that you also have at least three years of experience designing websites for a fast food multinational, speak fluent Tajik, and be proficient in hacky sack. So just as employees are flooding the market from industries that need to permanently downsize, it becomes harder to transition into a new industry or job description. ...
Oh, this long-term unemployment is so unfortunate, she says, but what can we do? Nothing.
I was one of those people employed in the dotcom boom. Some night classes in HTML, some programming manuals and some chutzpah got me a job in Silicon Valley. Why? Because the industry was growing so fast, fueled by what looked like sustained investment and market demand, that they needed everyone they could get. And most of us, even when we had to learn a lot on the job and didn't have narrow, vocational tech certificates for the specific work we were called to do, did pretty well.
Growing industries with steady investment and market demand lift all boats. They genuinely create a job climate where it can be said that most of what you need to succeed is eagerness to learn and a willingness to show up to do your best. The government has created a steady investment environment and market demand for coal, let's not pretend otherwise, and if we want to transition to new energy technology, it needs to be put on that same, sure footing.
Even the British Empire, as someone noted once, was run by people with Classical studies and liberal arts educations. They did pretty good, you know? Because human beings are versatile, as every booming, new industry in the history of the world has rediscovered when it had no choice but to ramp up with a workforce that it had to train from scratch.
If we want to keep hearing more news like this, that manufacturing technology consumption in January 2010 was up over the previous year , Congress must stop jerking industries like the wind sector around. We must invest in the future, we must invest in public health and long-term energy security, and we must face the facts that even with some money having gone overseas, more Americans are being employed by the wind industry after the stimulus than before it.
While I strongly support the inclusion of stronger provisions in government grants to encourage vendors to employ Americans, I also want Congress to keep in mind the kind of robust employment market that's needed to encourage companies to take a chance on people who may not have 5 years of highly specific experience in nacelle housing assembly. Most of us can agree that a shrinking industry does not create as many opportunities  for everyone willing to work.
As Van Jones said last week at the Center for American Progress, the fossil fuel industry is the world's "post-whale oil strategy," and an uninteresting strategy, at that. There is inevitably going to be a green economy in the world, he said, but we need to make sure it creates the "pathways out of poverty" mentioned in the 2007 Green Jobs Act signed into law by President Bush.
How much political energy do you think will be behind creating that green economy, a new economy with the potential to boom, if clean energy industries are continually weakened, or if cutting edge foreign producers are discouraged from employing Americans and training them up to world-class standards? I believe that strengthening the hand of the American Wind Energy Association, which opposes Schumer's somewhat draconian measure, will create a better job climate for US workers for a long time to come than strengthening the hand of the coal industry by once again undermining their higher tech, more sustainable competition.