Obama: “The promise of the clean economy is not an article of faith. It’s here.”

Remember Bill Clinton’s moment in the ’92 campaign when he addressed a factory full of workers in New Hampshire about the new economic reality for manufacturing jobs and what it means for the future of our country? (John Travolta recaptured the moment in Primary Colors…ringing any bells?) It was Clinton at his best: direct, empathetic and visionary. 
President Barack Obama had his similar moment yesterday. The scene was a cavernous new manufacturing plant that will produce Solyndra’s advanced technology solar panels. Huge manufacturing floor, bright lights, giant American flag draped stage left.  The crowd of a few hundred included construction workers who built the plant, Solyndra employees that will be building the panels and an array of local officials.  

My visual vantage point of President Obama was between two construction workers with hardhats. A great frame from which to take in the President’s vision for the workers assembled around me. 

Fremont, California—explained the President—is a symbol of what we’ve lost in the recent national recession. If California has been hard hit by the downturn, Fremont has been punched in the face. The city lost more than 4,000 manufacturing jobs with the closure of the NUMMI auto plant, which had been a landmark partnership between Toyota and GM to keep jobs in America’s auto industry. Thousands of jobs in the community disappeared with the factory’s closure, and it looked like another sad chapter of American industrial decline. 

But luckily, another fate emerged.  Thanks to a $535 million federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy—one of the key programs of last year’s stimulus program—Solyndra built its manufacturing plant in Fremont.  In the process, the company created thousands of jobs: 3,000 construction workers helped build the facility and companies from 12 states manufactured the equipment that will power it. After it opens, the plant will create thousands of new jobs and companies from 22 states will provide solar panel parts that will assembled at the factory.  Today, Obama drove home the point that Solyndra’s growth symbolizes how we can recapture our economic prosperity in the future. 

And the fate of the shuttered NUMMI plant?  It is being brought back to life.  Governor Schwarzenegger last week announced a new partnership between Toyota and Tesla Motor Company to produce electric cars in that factory. This exciting partnership won’t generate all the jobs that were lost, but it restores 1,200 positions. When combined with Solyndra and other local projects, it’s a slow but steady economic recovery thanks in part to California’s environmental leadership on clean energy policies. 

The growth of the clean economy, Obama said, is the cornerstone of our economic recovery and future economic growth in communities like Fremont all across America.  “No one is playing for second place” in the international race to become centers of clean technology development, he said. “The promise of the clean economy is not an article of faith. It’s here.” 

The President also laid bare the reality that “the heartbreaking spill” drives home the need to find new forms of domestic energy. “We won’t transition from oil tomorrow,” he explained, but the increased risks and costs of drilling show we need energy alternatives.  

To raucous applause, President Obama explained the need to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year. “It’s good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for our security.”  

Indeed. Stimulus funding for innovative companies such as Solyndra are powerful resources to help them grow. But, ultimately, if the U.S. is going to step up and become the global leader on clean energy, a federal cap on greenhouse gas pollution is needed to create an even playing field that renewable energy companies such as Solyndra’s can compete on and win. 

The Solyndra story also demonstrates why it’s an economic imperative to fend off attacks on clean energy policy like the one being launched by the Dirty Energy Proposition, a measure on California’s November’s ballot that would, in essence, kill our landmark climate and clean energy bill, AB 32. 

Obama’s moment at Solyndra made the point like I’ve never seen it made before:  Our economic future lies in embracing clean technology, and it’s high time we stepped up to make this promise a reality.

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