This Thursday, Republican senators from Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss infrastructure. These six senators could determine the fate of the president’s ambitious American Jobs Plan proposal. They could help ensure that the American economy leaps to the head of the global decarbonization race - or they could enable other nations to leave the U.S. behind in the dust.
At first glance, the six states sending senators to the White House have little in common. However, as seen through the lens of infrastructure and climate action, each could play a key role in contributing to a competitive, thriving U.S. economy as the global marketplace shifts into clean power and electrification.
In particular, global manufacturers are already beginning to respond to pressure from consumers, supply chain stakeholders, investors and policy makers. They are actively seeking out opportunities to manufacture goods without the aid of fossil energy. That trend will gather steam as clean power technology continues to improve, leading to lower costs that make fossil energy less competitive even without the benefit of support from policy makers.
To cite just one compelling example, the global auto industry is heavily invested in decarbonizing tailpipe emissions by switching to battery and fuel cell electrification. Now the industry is leveraging its considerable purchasing power to pressure steel makers into cleaning up their emissions, too.
Idaho is a case in point. Republican U.S. Senator Mike Crapo will represent Idaho at the White House meeting, and his stand on renewable energy is a stark contrast with the former president.
As Co-Chairman of the Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, Senator Crapo made his position on renewables clear during the run-up to Election Day 2020.
“I am a strong supporter of renewable and alternative energy sources,” Senator Crapo wrote in his regular weekly column on September 21, 2020, even as the former president continued to campaign on a fossil energy platform.
In the same column, Senator Crapo also underscored Idaho’s contribution to a decarbonized national economy.
“As a nation, we must set a national energy policy that will meet our energy needs while ensuring an environmentally sustainable future for generations to come,” he wrote.
Idaho also touts itself as the home state of the only U.S.-based chip maker, the clean power fan Micron Technology, and it is the home base for a division of the climate action leader Hewlett-Packard.
Overall, the tech sector has become a strong driver of economic growth in Idaho. Look for Crapo to work his state’s hydropower and nuclear energy leverage at the White House meeting. After all, it would be a shame if Idaho missed out on new opportunities to attract more tech jobs.
It is difficult for the other five states to match the Idaho benchmark on renewable energy, but Mississippi does share Idaho’s interest in supporting nuclear energy in the U.S. It is home to the largest nuclear power plant in the U.S., the 1,443-megawatt Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station.
In addition, the Mississippi economy is driven mainly by forestry and agriculture, which provides it with a strong platform for diving into the carbon market.
Mississippi has also been promoting its advanced manufacturing industry, citing companies including Hybrid Plastics of Hattiesburg. The state is also home to one of the ten largest nanotechnology companies in the U.S., Howard Industries of Laurel. The effort to attract others is doomed to fall behind unless the state improves access to clean power.
Missouri also shares a clean power interest with Idaho. Although the state is still heavily reliant on coal for power generation, it has been advertising its hydroelectric, landfill gas, ethanol, biodiesel, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources in recent years.
Forbes cites aerospace, food processing, chemicals, printing/publishing, electrical equipment and beer among the state’s leading industries. Many of these sectors are already pivoting into renewables and other carbon-reducing strategies. Beer is an especially noteworthy example, considering the influence Anheuser-Busch has on growing demand for renewables.
In addition, Forbes notes that Missouri is the home state of the former Monsanto (now Bayer), which has been following through on a carbon-neutral pledge.
Pennsylvania is a leading U.S. coal and gas producer, but the state’s list of top 50 employers is populated almost entirely by federal agencies and city governments known for their decarbonization goals, as well as health care facilities, academic institutions and the U.S. Postal Service.
The list also includes leading retailers with an interest decarbonization and energy efficiency, including CVS and Walmart, as well as other well-known retailers including Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Dollar General and Wegman’s.
The rapidly decarbonizing transportation companies FedEx, UPS and Amazon also make the list.
Especially noteworthy is the battery manufacturer East Penn Manufacturing, which is specifically targeting its energy storage technology at the wind and solar markets.
Of all the six senators to participate in the White House meeting, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is all but certain to spark the most attention.
Her fellow West Virginia Senator is a Democrat, Joe Manchin, who has emerged as the monkey wrench that could prevent Democrats in the U.S. Senate from exercising the full authority of their razor-slim majority. With only 50 seats, the Democrats need all members on board plus the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
In a hint of things to come, Manchin has come out in support of the United Mine Workers of America, which is advocating for the American Jobs Plan on the basis of new green jobs along with initiatives that help preserve the nation’s remaining coal jobs.
Wyoming is also a leading coal producer, and apparently policy makers in the state are having a hard time seeing the writing on the wall.
However, with Idaho right next door providing stiff competition, wind energy advocates have spotted an opportunity to nudge policy makers into supporting renewable energy projects.
The Biden administration could help tip the balance, especially if it provides support for some of the coal-protecting measures backed by the United Mine Workers.
Protecting coal mining jobs is not the same thing as protecting coal power plant jobs, and the Biden administration already appears to be pursuing a solution that could help convince some Republican senators to support the American Jobs Plan and other new clean energy initiatives.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a new round of $19 million in funding for a program aimed at helping coal stakeholders to make the switch from energy production into becoming a domestic source for rare earth minerals that support battery manufacturers like East Penn Manufacturing, among other clean tech stakeholders.
“The very same fossil fuel communities that have powered our nation for decades can be at the forefront of the clean energy economy by producing the critical minerals needed to build electric vehicles, wind turbines, and so much more,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm last month, when she announced the new round of funding.
The funding round covers coal states across the nation, including three of the six states to visit the White House on Thursday: Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming.
For all his rhetoric on bringing new manufacturing jobs to the U.S. and dominating the global economy, former President Trump never articulated the connection between manufacturing and decarbonization.
If the Republican senators from Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming have any interest in fulfilling that unkept promise, supporting the American Jobs Plan would be a good place to start.
Image credit: Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.