With thousands of jobs promised, $6 billion in ‘green’ industry funding was an easy sell: The Pros and Cons of New Government-Sponsored Green Jobs

Environment Policy Brief #166 | By: Todd Broadman | April 08, 2024
Featured Photo sourced from: www.vox.com

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A portion of the already approved Bipartisan Infrastructure Law ($430 million) and the Inflation Reduction Act ($5.46 billion) has been directed by President Biden to a program that aims to “accelerate the emissions reductions of heavy-emitting industries.” This program will be managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) under Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Funding for these carbon-reducing projects took the form of competitive grants totaling around $6 billion dollars. Awards have been decided, and though the money will go towards a wide range of industry sectors, the common thread is that in each case the DOE deemed decarbonization as “hard-to-abate.”

Prominent amongst the grantees are steel, aluminum and cement firms, representing industries that contribute approximately 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Under the DOE, this Industrial Demonstrations Program has related goals to “create healthier communities” and to “help strengthen and secure America’s global leadership in clean manufacturing for decades to come.” To further guide these goals, the DOE has assigned three of its divisions to oversee implementation: Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED), the Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains (MESC), and the Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office (IEDO).

Not only did this funding witness uncharacteristic bipartisan approval, it went further in winning widespread support from both industry and environmental groups. “I think the United States can be a leader here,” said Mike Ireland, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association, a non-profit that promotes cement and concrete. He also anticipates that the resulting technology has significant export potential. Christina Theodoridi, industrial policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was equally optimistic: “If done right, these projects can put us on the path to cleaner production of core products of the modern economy, while spurring the creation of good jobs.”

Uniquely challenging is the aluminum sector. The U.S. imports 40% of its aluminum, much of it from China. The manufacturing process is extremely energy intensive. There is even an “aluminum director,” Annie Sartor, at Industrial Labs, an organization that lobbies for green technology. Sartor explained that “these [aluminum] facilities have historically been located near cheap fossil energy. And today, 21st century coal, or coal and gas, are no longer cheapest.” The largest funding allocation is going to Century Aluminum, $500 million to build a 100% clean energy aluminum plant, and once in operation is expected to double domestic production.

Before declaring bankruptcy, the Magnitude 7 aluminum company was the largest single user of electricity in the state of Missouri. Their financially turbulent history highlights the risks of trying to keep these large industries afloat. 40% of the cost of aluminum is attributed to the cost of electricity. The U.S. cannot compete with lower-cost energy producers overseas. Current domestic production of aluminum is less than 20% of what it was in 1980. The cost of energy, in this instance, seems a more critical factor than the CO2 emissions associated with its manufacture. These economics are revealing, especially given that 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions are attributed to making aluminum.

ANALYSIS

The Biden administration scores bipartisan points with this program and can claim progress towards its goal of reducing carbon emissions 50% by 2030. Underlying political support for the $6 billion expenditure of taxpayer dollars though, is reminiscent of Pentagon military contractor allocations in so far as they are sold as net job creators. This intent is echoed by Lane Boldman who heads Kentucky Conservation Committee, who is pitching his state to Century Aluminum: “Kentucky has always represented some of the hardest working Americans when it comes to industry and energy. We are hopeful that their new facility will find a home in Kentucky, and provide good jobs along with healthier air and water quality while supporting a critical industry for the state.”

President Joe Biden did not miss the opportunity to secure United Steelworker union support with employment promises – a 1,000 new jobs – tied to this decarbonization program. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm went as far as to say that the new low-carbon technologies are “replicable,” “scalable,” and will “set a new gold standard for clean manufacturing in the United States and around the world.” Followed by a litany of unverifiable claims made by White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi that this funding “aims to eliminate 14 million metric tons of pollution each year, equivalent to taking about 3 million cars off the road.”

Among the 33 companies that were approved for funding (and not mentioned above) are:

  • Constellium in Ravenswood, West Virginia, who makes parts for cars and planes, is going to operate a first-of-its-kind zero-carbon aluminum casting plant, and install low-emission furnaces that can use clean fuels such as hydrogen.
  • Kraft Heinz will install heat pumps, electric heaters and electric boilers to decarbonize food production at 10 facilities, including in Holland, Michigan.
  • Cleveland-Cliffs Steel Corporation in Middletown, Ohio, will retire one blast furnace, install two electric furnaces, and use hydrogen-based ironmaking technology. The project aims to eliminate 1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year from the largest supplier of steel to the U.S. automotive industry.
  • Heidelberg Materials US, Inc. will build a system that captures and stores carbon underground at its plant in Mitchell, Indiana. The project aims to capture at least 95% of the carbon dioxide released by the cement plant, which will prevent 2 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.
  • SSAB AB received the largest award, $500 million, to build the first commercial-scale facility in the world to make fossil-fuel-free steel using 100% hydrogen in Perry County, Mississippi.
  • Vale SA received as much as $283 million to build a plant on the US Gulf Coast that makes iron ore briquettes with less industrial heat than traditional pellets.

Important to note that along with the patriotic claims of America leading the globe in efforts to decarbonize, some of the largest grantees are not American companies. SSAB (Sweden) and Heidelberg Materials (Germany) and Vale SA (Brazil) are not headquartered in the U.S. and do most of their manufacturing in other parts of the globe. To add further perspective, recipients of taxpayer dollars under this program such as Exxon and Kraft Heinz, have substantial profits and can afford to make these green investments without taxpayer funding. Others, like startup Brimstone cement, are well-backed by venture capital funding (Bill Gates among them). Certainly, a boon for Wall Street which has been pressing for federal funding to back their investments.

As a fundamental policy question: why are billions being directed at individual company manufacturing processes rather than into the generation of renewable energy itself? Are there not jobs there as well?

Engagement Resources:
  • ESG Today https://www.esgtoday.com/  dedicated to covering Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues for investors.
  • GreenBiz https://www.greenbiz.com/ a passionate media team that builds and empowers communities to confront the threats of climate change and solve the thorniest challenges of our time
  • Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/   combines the power of more than 3 million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and other environmental specialists to confront the climate crisis, protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places, and to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.

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