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This Earth Day, jobs, environment can go together

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Howard A. Learner
April 21, 2012

Earth Day 1970 sounded an alarm. It launched the modern environmental movement, bringing cleaner air, cleaner water and fewer dangerous toxins in our communities. Today, as we celebrate Earth Day on Sunday, the growing green economy is helping to drive the Midwestís and our nationís economic recovery.


Nonetheless, some defensive polluters and politicized critics are hauling out the old myth that we must choose between job creation and environmental protection. That wasnít true 42 years ago, and it isnít true today. Letís look at the facts of innovative clean technologies in Wisconsin.


--Energy efficiency improvements are creating jobs, keeping money in Wisconsin, and reducing pollution. For example, Johnson Controls is a leading energy efficiency business employing thousands of skilled workers retrofitting schools, hospitals, homes, and commercial and government buildings. Saving energy saves money. Because Wisconsin imports the coal, gas and uranium, more efficient energy use keeps money in the state. Less pollution means better public health and cleaner waterways.


--Wind and solar development create manufacturing and technical jobs, rural economic development and pollution-free energy. The Environmental Law & Policy Centerís Solar and Wind Supply Chain report (elpc.org/wisconsinenergy) shows Wisconsin is home to more than 300 wind and solar supply chain businesses and 12,000 related jobs. Manufacturers are re-tooling to supply growing clean energy equipment markets. Midwest politicians must get the policy framework right to keep advancing our regionís clean energy economy leadership.


--Cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks save us money at the gas pump, cut back air pollution, make our country less dependent on foreign oil and keep money in Wisconsinís economy. The Obama administrationís leadership in modernizing the American auto industry is a true success story. This is especially important for those with auto-related manufacturing jobs. Federal clean car standards will increase fuel economy to a fleetwide average of 35 mpg in 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. That will save trillions for Americaís economy, create jobs building cleaner cars, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.


--High-speed rail is on track across Michigan with Republican Gov. Rick Snyderís leadership and across Illinois with Democrat Gov. Pat Quinnís leadership. High-performance rail improves mobility, creates jobs, spurs economic growth and reduces pollution. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walkerís decision to reject $810 million of federal high-speed rail funds is a sadly missed opportunity, which we hope can be reversed. Modern, fast, comfortable and convenient rail service connecting Milwaukee to Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis and beyond is an important transportation option to rising airfares and highway congestion with higher gas prices.


We will soon be overwhelmed by 30-second political attack ads from all sides. Letís separate sound solutions from the sound bites. We are achieving job creation, economic growth and better environmental quality together. Thatís what the public wants, and itís happening.


Howard A. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest-based environmental and economic development advocacy organization. Readers can reach him at HowardALearner@elpc.org or by writing to the center, 35 E. Wacker Drive, Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60601-2110.

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