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Hopes for Obama's wave of green jobs fades to gray

Republicans could scale back US science budgets
Washington (AFP) Nov 10, 2010 - Budgets for scientific research in the United States could be scaled back with the return of a Republican-majority in Congress as conservatives aim to slash spending to reduce the ballooning deficit. The Republican electoral platform, the "Pledge to America," details the party's ideals of smaller government, lower taxes and robust national defense, and vows to "stop out-of-control spending." "There is a risk that we may have a significant reduction in the science budget," said Patrick Clemins, director of the research and development policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Even before Republicans made sweeping gains in the House of Representatives in last week's mid-term elections, Republicans and Democrats agreed to scale back federal spending in order to try and get the deficit, which amounts to almost 14 trillion dollars in national debt, under control.

President Barack Obama has also ordered all federal agencies that are not linked to national security to reduce by five percent their budget requests for 2012 compared to the 2011 budget year beginning October 1, 2010. But if Republicans hold to their pledge, non-defense related federal research spending could dip more than 12 percent to around 58 billion dollars compared to 66 billion requested by the White House for 2011. According to an analysis by Clemins which shows what could occur if Republicans are able to make across-the-board cuts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could see its budget slashed by 34 percent or 324 million dollars. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) could lose nine percent of its budget or 2.9 billion dollars, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) could see a 19 percent cut, or one billion dollars gone from its coffers. The US space agency NASA's spending could shrink by 15 percent or 1.6 billion dollars.

According to John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University, the recent elections have brought "increased uncertainty for the future of US space program." "The new Republican leaders in the House are talking about overall budget reduction and almost certainly NASA cannot avoid some of that," he told AFP. In Clemins' view, the situation may not be quite so dire for those who depend on federal funds for research, given that conservatives have made more moderate declarations since the election has passed. Republicans have "talked more about oversight" and "looking hard" at programs which might need cuts, Clemins said. And in a press conference on November 3, the day after the election, President Barack Obama said he was opposed to cuts in research and development in a sign that the White House is likely to oppose such actions by Republicans. "I don't think we should be cutting back on research and development, because if we can develop new technologies in areas like clean energy, that could make all the difference in terms of job creation here at home," Obama said.
by Staff Writers
Cleveland, Ohio (AFP) Nov 10, 2010
President Barack Obama has put the government's weight and dollars behind a push for green jobs, but in the US heartland there are doubts his drive can revive manufacturing's glory days.

Economic malaise is nothing new to northern Ohio, the recession-blighted region that was once a showcase for American manufacturing splendor.

Pummeled by decades of industrial decline and jobs being shipped overseas, the region's biggest city, Cleveland, has seen its population of nearly a million in 1950 more than halve.

Cruelly dubbed the "mistake by the lake," the now half-empty city received another hammer blow during the recent downturn, which shuttered even more factories and sent unemployment soaring.

"We have seen pretty big declines in manufacturing-sector employment," said Guhan Venkatu, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in describing a lost decade for the state.

"Some of the jobs will come back as we get deeper into the recovery, but most of them won't."

Yet throughout the latest crisis there has been one beam of hope: That the global race to develop green technology could help resuscitate the region.

With Obama investing billions to help stimulate the green economy, local authorities in Ohio have wagered that a skills base honed over decades could be tapped in that quest.

Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of the Ohio Department of Development, spends her days trying to help the young shoots of Ohio's green economy break through its ash-laden soil.

The effort is about "investing in future technology that will build on the manufacturing strengths that we already have in the state," she said.

As a result, glass factories that once pumped out products for the auto industry are now focused on making solar panels, while shop floors that produced gears now crank out parts for wind turbines.

According to Patt-McDaniel, one green-tinged technology drive called the "third frontier" has created 9,000 jobs directly and about 45,000 secondary jobs in the eight years it has been in existence.

Still, despite this success, Obama's hopes of ushering in a tidal wave of green-collar jobs to rescue the languishing manufacturing sector are facing strong crosscurrents.

The Cleveland Fed's Venkatu argues the destruction of manufacturing jobs was caused by a range of factors, many of which apply equally to green manufacturing.

"It is not simply about the geographic pattern of production, of production moving offshore," said Venkatu.

"It would be very difficult to regain what has been lost in part because these are being driven by economic factors, increasing globalization and improvements in technology."

Between 2000 and 2005 technology advances meant output per manufacturing worker increased around 30 percent, he said.

That increased productivity means companies can employ fewer workers to do the same of work.

It is a trend also seen by John Colm, the head of WIRE-Net -- a nonprofit group that helps manufacturing firms in Cleveland.

"Regions would formerly hope to get a big auto plant because it would put a lot of people to work with only a high school education -- that equation just does not work anymore," he said.

Because Ohio has lost 400,000 jobs in the last four years and continues to lose jobs at a rate of around 17,000 per month, even Patt-McDaniel is careful not to overstate the impact green jobs, or the government, can have.

"I don't think that the third frontier is going to replace all the jobs that are no longer manufacturing jobs in the state," she said.

But that does not mean it is not worth trying.

"You are always creating jobs, and jobs are being let go. The game is trying to create more jobs than are being abolished. That is what we are aiming for."

Colm agreed: "If we still have the firms and they are organized and they are bringing wealth into a region, then that is healthy, that is good. It might be a smaller, leaner company in terms of employment, but that is the new reality."

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Brussels (AFP) Nov 10, 2010
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