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The Apollo Project

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TOO OFTEN WE ARE TOLD to think small—that we must choose between jobs and environmental quality, and that we cannot break the crippling dependence on foreign oil that threatens the security of our nation. But we can do better. Working families should not have to choose between putting food on the table for our children today and protecting the health of our children tomorrow. Labor leaders and environmentalists, once pitted against each other, have united around a jobs plan that is also an energy plan and a national security plan: a new Apollo Project to move our country toward energy independence, create long-term family-wage jobs, and improve the efficiency and performance of our energy system.

The Apollo Project, named after President Kennedy's famous challenge to put a man on the moon, will increase the diversity of our energy resources, using the best available technology to reduce environ-mental impacts and create good jobs and reliable and affordable energy. America is neglecting the industries of the future while other nations invest. Wind is the fastest growing energy source, but European producers dominate turbine production.  Fuel cells are poised to revolutionize energy technology, but most come from non-union plants in Canada. In 2000, the Japanese government spent $500 million on photovoltaic cells, seven times U.S. investment. 

Buildings consume 65 percent of electricity. The average home emits twice the pollution of the average car. K-12 schools spend $6 billion a year on energy, at a time when we are laying off teachers and janitors. An aggressive efficiency plan could cut energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent by 2020. We can substitute good union jobs for wasted energy.

The Apollo Project will help rebuild our manufacturing base, converting assembly lines to make clean cars and efficient appliances and building demand for these products, creating jobs here in the U.S. Already, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members manufacture solar panels in Tennessee, United Auto Workers (UAW) members build towers for wind generators in Louisiana, and Machinists are making fuel cells in California. Investment in industrial efficiency will provide plants with cheap, clean energy, cut emissions, and put capital into retaining good jobs in U.S. plants.

The Apollo Project also will increase investment in the neglected infrastructure of our cities. There is a backlog of $81 billion in unmet transit needs—subways, bus lanes, and rail projects—at a time when automobile congestion costs the U.S. $70 billion a year. Fixing highway congestion and building transit will reduce vehicle miles traveled, cut energy consumption and pollution, improve job access for the working poor, and drive new employment to union job sites in our cities.

The Apollo Alliance, working with the United Steelworkers of America, has recently completed public opinion research in key industrial swing states. In Pennsylvania, support for an Apollo Project was 72 percent. Among key swing voters, that support jumped to 81 percent, with 50 percent strongly favoring the project. Across the entire industrial Midwest, support was similarly strong.

The Apollo Project for energy independence will be bold, to match the scale of the problem. We propose spending $300 billion over 10 years, creating or retaining 3 million jobs that are more sustainable and more likely to be union, while making the economy more competitive and more productive. It will break the myth that the environment and the economy are locked in perpetual conflict and bring Americans together around a progressive and hopeful agenda of reinvestment. 

This plan has already been supported by 12 labor unions, representing 5.5 million members, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Steelworkers, the UAW, and others.  The project has been praised by the heads of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and we continue to build alliances with labor, environmental, community, and faith groups, and progressive policy advocates of all stripes.


Bracken Hendricks is executive director of the Apollo Alliance, www.apolloalliance.org, and director of the New Growth Initiative at the Institute for America's Future. This article is adapted from a speech at the Take Back America conference, June 5, 2003.

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