Once again, the clean energy industry is collateral damage in an election year war of words.
After being repeatedly called out by fact-checkers for straight-up lying in political ads attacking clean energy jobs, the GOP is doubling down on claims about the stimulus package that the Washington Post has called “ridiculous.”
The Republican National Committee just rolled out a new website that rehashes many of the party’s widely-debunked assertions that the President sent jobs overseas through the stimulus. Responding to the Obama campaign’s charges that Romney outsourced jobs while at the private equity firm Bain Capital, the GOP is attempting to weave an outsourcing story of its own — this one centered on clean energy jobs.
Even with 660,00 jobs supported by green buildings, 75,000 jobs in the wind industry, 100,000 jobs supported by the solar industry, and 155,000 jobs in the clean and efficient vehicle sector, the RNC is stepping up its claims that the Obama Administration hurt jobs through his promotion of clean energy in the stimulus package.
(Apparently, somebody forgot to send the RNC a copy of the Brookings Institution report showing that jobs in renewable energy grew by 8.3 percent during the height of the recession due to the stimulus.)
This latest RNC narrative is based almost entirely on fiction. As the Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler points, out in his debunk of the RNC campaign: “Most of the examples are ripped out of context, involve strange leaps of logic or are so minor that it’s barely worth paying attention.”
But the campaign itself — no matter how untruthful — is definitely worth paying attention to. It puts clean energy square in the GOP’s political cross hairs and will likely serve as key piece of Mitt Romney’s talking points.
In fact, at a campaign rally earlier this week, Romney repeated some of the RNC’s claims almost word-for-word, calling Obama an outsourcer by “putting money into solar and wind energy companies that make their products outside of the U.S.”
So what are the facts? The website provides more than two dozen “ripped out of context” examples of jobs being created overseas; however, it provides no documentation backing up them up. Only when you dig deep into the “Research Briefing” section of an alternative GOP website can you find the stories they reference.
It’s no wonder the citations were hidden. The stories they link to are either laughably inconsequential, contradictory, or completely outdated. Speaking to the Washington Post, here’s how one reporter described the RNC’s use of his previous investigative work on whether foreign products were being used for renewable energy projects being constructed in America:
“The RNC’s website does correctly cite some of the data we uncovered in the course of our investigation, however most of that reporting is over two years old and the RNC site presents just a snippet of what we found. The focus of our reporting was whether or not the Obama administration created as many jobs domestically as they promised they would — not on the question of whether there was “outsourcing” of jobs. I don’t think we saw anything that indicated the Obama administration pushed jobs overseas. What we found is that a large portion of the money from that program was given to foreign-owned companies to build wind farms here in the United States. We found those projects did create jobs here in the United States in construction and operation of those wind farms, but in many instances, the farms used turbines that may have been manufactured overseas. In many cases, manufacturers told us that domestically manufactured turbines were not available. When we last reported on the issue, we found that more and more domestic companies were getting involved, but I can’t say what the situation is today.”
In its breakdown of the campaign, The Washington Post rips down almost new every claim made in the campaign. It’s well worth checking out Glenn Kessler’s detailed analysis to see why he calls the narrative so “ridiculous.”
But there are a few other key points worth highlighting. If the Republican party has made a decision to aggressively target renewable energy in its political attacks, they need to answer a few questions.
1) Is the GOP opposing foreign investment to increase America’s competitiveness?
Oddly, the campaign laments that foreign companies invested in the U.S. market.
The stimulus package attracted a number of international companies that came to the U.S. to open manufacturing facilities and develop a variety of projects. Because America had a less mature clean energy market than other countries (mostly because of inconsistent policy support over the years), some companies outside the country set up American subsidiaries in order to take advantage of the stimulus grant program and build projects — supporting up to 75,000 jobs in the process. And as required by law, 100% of the projects that received investment tax credits through the stimulus were built in the United States.
That’s the exact opposite of outsourcing. That is drawing on new expertise and talent to help grow the nascent U.S. clean energy market and create domestic jobs. By criticizing this investment, are we saying that “America is closed for business” and that we don’t want foreign companies creating American jobs here? That’s how this campaign comes across.
2) Is the GOP now implying it doesn’t support free enterprise?
Some have been critical that companies developing projects under the stimulus were sourcing products from outside the U.S. These are legitimate concerns. However, in many cases, the products needed simply weren’t available within American borders or didn’t meet performance specifications — largely because our domestic manufacturing sector hadn’t scaled to the level needed.
Even though clean energy facilities under the grant program were all developed within U.S. borders, the GOP is now attacking companies for sourcing some products from outside the country due to cost, performance, or availability issues. But isn’t that just the free market at work? If a company can’t get something it needs one place, shouldn’t it go to where it can?
Even more stunning, the GOP campaign attacks General Electric, General Motors and First Solar for setting up manufacturing facilities in other countries. But none of these companies got a single dollar of stimulus money for these facilities; they were simply moving to where the markets demanded. By needlessly singling these companies out for attack, the GOP seems to be implying that the free market is a bad thing — but only when the narrative suits their political objectives.
3) Is the GOP prepared to sacrifice our role in a booming global industry in order to create fake scandals for short-term political gain?
Between 2004 and 2011, the global clean energy sector saw $1 trillion in investments. And last year, investments in clean energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time ever. But rather than try to capture the value from the next trillion dollars in global clean energy investments, the national Republican establishment only seems committed to turning the industry into a scandal.
Since the year-long Solyndra investigation turned up no evidence of political wrong doing, party leaders are attempting to create another false narrative about the clean energy industry. But their cover has been blown. Fact checkers have repeatedly called the claims in this new campaign “alarming” and “ultimately ridiculous.” They’ve also lamented the party’s narrative, saying “there is no excuse for these kinds of ads, which take facts out of context or simply invent them.”
Indeed, there is no way around it. This latest campaign is laughably false. Even so, we can expect party leaders to continue hammering away at these talking points until November. Whenever these talking points are used, journalists and voters need to remember how ludicrously false they are.