Manchin joins initiative to bring clean jobs to rural areas

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Charles Boothe, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.
·4 min read
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Mar. 2—WASHINGTON — Bringing clean energy manufacturing jobs to areas hit hard by the downturn in the coal industry is part of an initiative unveiled Monday by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., during a virtual press conference.

The American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act of 2021 would "incentivize domestic manufacturing of advanced energy technologies with targeted investment in rural communities across America that have suffered from a decline in manufacturing and traditional energy sector jobs."

Manchin said residents in these communities helped power the nation and then were left without the good-paying jobs they once had with nothing to replace them and no new opportunities.

"The negative impact is felt by local economies across the country," he said, adding that the act includes tax credits to help incentivize the transition to a "cleaner energy future" and should be targeted to drive reinvestment in the communities that are the most impacted by that transition.

Manchin, who is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said West Virginia is full of former coal miners and other industry personnel who have the skills to build whatever is needed in the energy industry, including components for an advanced electric grid, energy storage, electric vehicles and wind turbines.

The act would invest $8 billion in American manufacturing and industry "which would be available (as tax credits) to manufacturers and other industrial users to retool, expand, or build new facilities that make or recycle energy-related products, with $4 billion carved out for use in communities where coal mines have closed or coal power plants have retired (that have not previously received the §48C tax credit)."

The other $4 billion is earmarked for the car industry in Michigan.

Manchin said the act promotes domestic job creation that draws on existing skilled workforces, particularly workers dislocated from manufacturing, coal mining, or retired coal power plants. It also provides reinvestment in communities experiencing high unemployment.

Stabenow said the transition to a clean energy economy, including electric vehicles, is a "great opportunity."

China is going "full bore" in clean energy manufacturing, she said, investing $100 billion in the industry and now making over 70 percent of the world's solar panels as well as 75 percent of the manufacturing capacity to make battery cells for electric vehicles.

"We can't depend on other countries for production (of these products)," she said. "Our workers and our businesses need support in making that happen."

Stabenow said the same tax credit strategy was used in Michigan in 2009 to help with economic recovery in the auto industry.

"It worked," she said. "I am very excited about this ... This bill ensures that America — not China — will lead the way in the clean energy revolution."

Matt Blunt, former Republican Governor of Missouri who is now president of the American Automotive Policy Council, also participated in the press conference.

Blunt said the automobile industry is committed to invest and keep auto manufacturing on the "cutting edge" to be competitive globally, and the United States has to be ready for the "next generation vehicles."

A supply change of needed related products should be U.S.-based, he added.

"We are proud to support this legislation," he said.

Manchin also said action is coming to shore up the basic infrastructure in coalfield counties that is needed to support manufacturing, including water, sewer, broadband and roads.

"You are going to see a major infrastructure plan happen very quickly," he said, adding that it should have happened two administrations ago.

Manchin was referring to one of the Biden Administration's top priorities.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Pres. Biden pledged to deploy $2 trillion on infrastructure and clean energy, but that price tag may go higher. Former Pres. Donald Trump also pledged a large infrastructure package but it did not get off the ground.

Manchin thinks this will be different.

"It is the next thing to bring this country together," he said, adding that broadband is a necessity in rural areas as well as water and sewer services.

"These are things we are going to do," he said, with an "infrastructure bank" set up to fund future products so it won't be "one and done."

Manchin said it's also about more than focusing on energy-related manufacturing businesses.

With the popular Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail System in Southern West Virginia, he said ATVs could be manufactured here.

He also said "rare earth minerals" extraction is another possible avenue to explore.

"These are the many things we can be doing," he said, with investments the act can possibly attract.

Both Manchin and Stabenow said they expect bipartisan support for the act.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com