"SURE, IT'S a dream," says Michael Shellenberg, executive director of
Americans for Energy Freedom, based in El Cerrito. "But when President Kennedy
directed the first Apollo Project to put a man on the moon, who believed it
would actually happen?"
The dream to which he refers is a new Apollo Project -- a 10-year, $300
billion research and investment plan that aims to attain energy independence
from foreign oil and create millions of new jobs in energy-efficient
The Apollo Alliance is the new labor-environmental coalition that is
promoting the project. The Alliance consists of 12 of the country's biggest
unions -- including the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the
Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers -- and has received ringing endorsements from the Sierra
Club and other environmental groups.
Together, they have called upon all Democratic presidential candidates to
back a new Apollo Project. So far, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. John
Kerry, D-Mass., have embraced the goals of the new Apollo Project with the
greatest enthusiasm. In June, Kerry called for a $1 billion annual investment
in cleaner cars and trucks to achieve a hydrogen-based economy by 2020.
Gephardt has even predicted that "alternative energy has the potential to be
American's largest growth market and job producer in the next 10 years."
We must end our addiction to oil, argues the Apollo Alliance. Ultimately,
reserves will dwindle and the world will need new sources of power. Meanwhile,
the effort to control access to oil drives our foreign policy and keeps us
chained to guarding pipelines, from Iraq to Colombia.
The new Apollo Project calls for considerable public investment in energy-
efficient research and manufacturing. The goal, according to the Alliance, is
to "turn the Rust Belt into the Hydrogen & Hybrid Hub, put mass transit on the
fast track, capture the markets of the future for U.S. products and create a
million good new jobs."
Labor is impressed. The slogan of the Alliance -- "Let's switch our energy
dependence from the Middle East to the Midwest" -- appeals to people in states
where industrial jobs have disappeared. "We believe this plan can create good
manufacturing jobs, good construction jobs, can improve the public
infrastructure, can be good for the environment and reduce our dependence on
foreign energy," said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of
Environmentalists are enthusiastic as well. "What is radically different,"
said Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, "is the
commitment on the part of a huge segment of American organized labor to
organize the rebuilding of blue-collar America around modern environmentalism
and sound energy technology."
Right now, the new Apollo Project may seem unrealistic, given the resident
in the White House, the past role of powerful unions in promoting development
project such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge and the
monstrous federal deficit. But that could change. Last week, when the
president attacked the Clean Air Act by giving older power plants and
refineries permission to modernize without updating pollution controls, he
handed every Democratic candidate powerful ammunition for the 2004 election.
To fund the necessary public investment, says Shellenberg, whose group is a
member of the Alliance, Congress will need to repeal the Bush tax cuts, which
analysts estimate will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
Is the new Apollo Project simply a utopian fantasy? No, and here's why: For
the last 30 years, labor leaders and environmentalists often refused to sit in
the same room. Now, in a historic reversal, they have found a way to link
environmental goals with widespread concern over job losses and national
security. Even more, they have cast the fight for energy independence as an
act of patriotism.
Sure, the new Apollo Project is still a dream. But American labor,
creativity and can-do spirit have accomplished stranger things before. Let's
not forget that on July 20, 1969, the world watched in awe as American
astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle