Solar industry, steel workers applaud Obama's climate change initiatives


The United States' Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as well as the United Steelworkers (USW) union have welcomed the White House’s newly announced plan to combat climate change.

U.S. President Barack Obama presented America's new climate change strategy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, where he pledged more than 13 GW of renewable energy plants on federal lands by 2025 in addition to tough new carbon standards for power stations.

"This is a watershed moment in our nation's history," SEIA president and CEO Rhone Reschs said Tuesday following Obama's speech.

"Climate change threatens our economy, our future progress, our health and safety, and even our way of life. … To his credit, President Obama understands that. We commend him for offering a bold, decisive plan to combat climate change and to mitigate the impacts of carbon pollution."

Echoing Resch's words, USW President Leo W. Gerard said the debate about whether or not climate change is real had "gone on for far too long. … We have witnessed devastating super-storms and hurricanes that have wreaked havoc on communities across the country. The plan President Obama outlined today includes many positive steps to help our nation begin a meaningful effort to address climate change, while creating and maintaining hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs in the domestic manufacturing, construction and service sectors," Gerard added.

The USW president stressed that industrial facilities and its workers could and must play a role in the clean energy economy.

"As the largest industrial union in North America, we are encouraged that the president's plan also includes measures to improve industrial energy efficiency and expand renewable energy development and deployment," Gerard said.

"Our members work in industrial facilities across the country where efficiency improvements will ensure that these facilities are globally competitive and economically sustainable."

Resch added, "America's solar energy industry is uniquely poised to help. Today, more than 30 utility-scale, clean energy solar projects are under construction, putting thousands of electricians, steelworkers and laborers to work and helping to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. These facilities, along with rooftop solar on homes, businesses and schools, will generate electricity for generations to come."

The U.S. currently has an installed cumulative solar electric capacity of more than 8.5 GW – enough to power more than 1.3 million homes, Resch explained, pointing out that in the first quarter of 2013, more than 48% of new electricity added to the grid was solar.

The American solar industry currently employs nearly 120,000 people in more than 5,600 companies, most of which are small businesses spread across the U.S., making solar one of the fastest growing industries in America, Resch said, adding that part "of this amazing growth is attributed to the fact that the cost of a solar system has dropped by nearly 40% over the past two years, making solar more affordable than ever."

Gerard said the USW especially welcomed the White House's plan to upgrade the country's outdated pipeline, water and electricity systems, pointing out that the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the U.S.' infrastructure a very negative score and called for an investment of $3.6 trillion to upgrade the systems by 2020.

"The U.S. grid infrastructure was not designed to withstand strong winds and storm surges, and roughly $2 trillion in investments is needed to make improvements by 2030 for it to function efficiently," Gerard said.

The USW president also demanded that any public spending include "strong domestic procurement provisions … to ensure that all the component parts used in our grid, pipeline and waters systems are made right here in America."

The USW represents 850,000 workers in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in the public sector and service occupations.

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