The Clean Economy Goes Metro

on July 13, 2011 at 6:00 AM

The roles of the renewable energy and green manufacturing sector in driving a US economic recovery are set to be major issues in the upcoming 2012 national elections, and positioning on the subject has already begun.

The “clean” economy is already a fast-growing piece of the economy in the 100 largest US metropolitan areas, and with a sustained focus on regional innovation and research cluster development cities could be leaders in prompting renewed economic growth, a Washington, DC-based think tank said.

A new report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy program highlights the importance of green jobs and clean-energy research and manufacturing to the country’s largest population centers, as well as the potential for further accelerated expansion.

At the same time the report, released today and titled “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment,” criticizes “policy gaps that undercut market demand, financing shortfalls that lead to uncertainty and instability for investors and an inadequate system for supporting innovation.”

“The brutal truth is, unlike our global competitors, we have no strategic framework for expanding the clean economy,” Brookings VP and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program Bruce Katz said in releasing the report. “We have too few financing tools, and we provide too little support for necessary innovation.”

Incentives for renewable fuels have already been a contentious political issue, with ethanol tax credits attracting unusual bipartisan ire and high-profile energy industry figures pointing out that renewable fuel companies will have to eventually learn to live without subsidies. Progress on energy policy remains slow where it exists at the federal level, leaving cities and regions to make up the gap.

“This is not an area where the public sector needs to get out of the way,” Brookings’ Katz said. “Government leaders, at all levels, need to get in the game.”

Cities and regions are at the heart of the Brookings recommendations, which are backed up by a mapping tool that allows users to see how the clean economy is distributed across the 50 states and 100 largest metropolitan areas.

“States and the federal government should place regions at the center of their economic development thinking even as regional innovation and industry cluster programs and regional actors more sharply identify their competitive strengths and formulate ‘bottom-up’ strategies for supporting growing clusters,” the report recommends.