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Chu Speaking at CommencementEducation is the cornerstone of innovation. The U.S. has one of the best higher education systems in the world, graduating thousands of students each year ready to work and create the new inventions of tomorrow. At Washington University in Saint Louis, Energy Secretary Steven Chu delivered a commencement speech urging students to “do something that matters.” Echoing Americans for Energy Leadership’s call, Secretary Chu stated the need for a “second industrial revolution to provide the world’s energy needs in an environmentally sustainable way.” To accomplish an industry that will produce energy solutions we need to provide jobs for our recent graduates in the sciences and promote energy education at the K-12 and university level.

As the country’s energy infrastructure ages and global energy demand multiplies, public investment in clean energy can become the backbone of a growing industry and provide an estimated tens of thousands of American jobs.  Chu’s speech emphasized, “America has the opportunity to lead in this new industrial revolution and build the foundation of our future prosperity.” To produce these green jobs for our graduates, the federal government needs to make the necessary investments in energy research and development and private-public partnerships to compete with the billions invested in wind and solar technology in Germany, the Netherlands and other countries. China, Japan and South Korea have already surpassed the United States in clean energy production and investment. Without the necessary attention to a green revolution, “we will be importing the new energy technologies developed by Europe and Asia” concluded Chu.

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by Adam S. Sieff, Policy Fellow

With oil flooding the Gulf, General David Petraeus fainting before Congress as he tries to salvage the war in Afghanistan, and many Americans still out of work, President Obama faces compound crises assailing the United States. But despite the ambiguities of his speech last Tuesday, the President still needs to frame these issues as components of a single problem facing all Americans: dependence on foreign carbon-based energy. The President’s bipartisan meeting with Senators tomorrow provides a second golden opportunity to pitch clean energy legislation to voters.

Clean energy advocates have traditionally been labeled “greens,” their ranks presumably abundant in the hills of Berkeley and on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Indeed, the most enthusiasm for a new energy economy still comes—for better or worse—from the environmental community. But as the President must communicate, one needn’t wear Birkenstocks or compost in the backyard to understand the critical urgency of developing a clean energy economy. He must demonstrate that there are good reasons for every working American to embrace immediate and transformative energy policy.

First, at the cost of countless good-paying jobs, he must emphasize that the United States stands to lose its competitive edge in the global economy if it fails to stimulate a clean energy sector. The global energy industry is a $5 trillion business and new markets for clean energy firms are expanding more rapidly in Asia than they are here in the United States. In particular, China, Japan and South Korea all stand to surpass the United States in dominance of future clean energy markets due to their substantially larger government investments supporting energy research and innovation. According to statistics published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), for every dollar of U.S. economic output, only 0.03% is currently devoted to clean energy research and development—less than half the rate in South Korea, and barely a third of the rate in Japan. Over the next five years, China alone will invest $209 billion to energy technology research. By contrast, the United States, in even the most generous assessment of the most ambitious proposed legislation, will only invest $92 billion.

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