The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined labor and green leaders at a Gary rally Tuesday evening, saying Americans do not have to choose between keeping jobs and protecting the environment.
"That is a false choice," said Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator. "This is a new path, this is different, but it's one where our economy and our environment move hand in hand."
About 150 people from the manufacturing and environmental communities gathered at McBride Hall, headquarters of United Steelworkers District 7, in support of a clean energy economy and the new jobs that would come with it. The rally was part of the "Made in America Jobs Tour" organized by the Blue Green Alliance and the Alliance for Climate Protection's "Repower America" campaign. The campaign kicked off Aug. 20 in Cleveland and will travel to 22 states.
"It was great that the administrator of the EPA recognized the importance of our region and of Gary to move this forward," said Lin Kaatz Chary, a Gary resident and environmentalist. "There's no reason that we can't reinvent ourselves as a center of green jobs and green energy."
Investing $3.1 billion in Indiana could create more than 38,000 Hoosier jobs, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning national think tank. Steeled by the jobs that might follow, organized labor has joined the movement.
In making one wind turbine alone, more than 250 tons of steel is needed, said Tom Conway, international vice president of the United Steelworkers.
"This is about jobs, jobs, jobs," Conway said. "And this is about leaving a clean environment for our kids."
Bill Keith, president of SunRise Solar Inc., has experienced first-hand the benefits of clean energy. His St. John company makes solar-powered attic fans. Keith said it was a struggle to launch the product line, but now the fans cool everything from homes to governors' mansions.
And when business increased, Keith said he made sure he kept production within the United States.
"I didn't want to put my neighbors and friends out of work," he said. "I know what it's like to come from nothing."
Other labor and environmental leaders echoed that sentiment, saying it was important for Americans to manufacture parts for environmental initiatives. Jackson said Germany leads in producing solar products while China leads in producing wind farms.
"America needs to lead this race," she said. "We need to utilize the innovation that has made America great and will lead us into our future."
David Ellis, 38, of Hobart, just started a sustainable energy business called Coach Greene. He said his company will help install solar electric systems, insulate buildings and help small businesses and homeowners be more energy efficient. He said it was great to see labor and environmental leaders come together.
"They're kind of forces that have been at odds in the past, but they both represent American values."