Former Michigan Gov. challenges Chattanooga to embrace green jobs

Former Michigan Gov. challenges Chattanooga to embrace green jobs

June 21st, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Local - Breaking News

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, right, talks with local officials and business leaders as Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson-R, looks on with Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Ray Boeman Tuesday at Green Spaces. Granholm urged support for clean energy, electric vehicles and energy independence.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The cost of foreign oil is hurting U.S. manufacturing, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm told a group of business, energy and political leaders today.

"We spend $1 billion a day sending money to countries that don't necessarily have our best interests at heart," said Granholm, who currently works as senior advisor to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Clean Energy Program.

While global investment in clean energy has risen 630 percent since 2004, the U.S. has begun to lag behind, she claimed, and needs to catch up to countries like Germany and China.

"People who think [green jobs] are going to China because of the low wages there are wrong," she said. "Germany has high wages. It's because of policy."

Jeff Cannon, executive director of Green Spaces, where the event was hosted, called for a "carrot and stick" approach, where business is rewarded for green behavior and punished for behavior that is energy inefficient.

But federal, state and local governments have little money to spend on carrots such as green subsidies, and business leaders have already decried efforts by the EPA to push through environmental rules left undone by Congress, such as cap and trade.

"For a business, it has to be cost-effective," said Wejun Robinson, general manager for Top Flight. "You can't do solar on your own; you've got to have the grant money or the pay out takes 15 years."

In the meantime, corporations like Mohawk Industries have trained their employees to recycle and save energy by turning out the lights, but consumer apathy toward green products hasn't helped sales, said Bill Kilbride, president of Mohawk Industries' Mohawk Home division.

"We run it by the retailers, but they're not interested in paying more for recycled products," he said.

Any reform of the energy system will therefore take efforts to educate the public about the benefits of being green, said Tim Spires, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association.

"A lot of it is about education," Spires said. "In general, manufacturing is interested in being energy effecient, but the customer has to be there."

Read more in Wednesday's Times Free Press.