- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

U.S. business leaders told President Obama Wednesday the country is behind on developing good jobs out of clean energy and said the government must get involved to push the country further.

“We’re in the race, but we’re not at the head of the race,” said John Doerr, a venture capitalist with an interest in green jobs, at a meeting with Mr. Obama at the White House.

The president, for his part, acknowledged that his own plan to fight global warming is too difficult “politically” for many on Capitol Hill, and he signaled he is open to the bill making its way through Congress that accommodates regional needs by giving some businesses rights to emit greenhouse gases.

Mr. Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board met for the first time and instantly ran into its first disagreement, with members putting off a vote on adopting a statement on how to go about creating green jobs and calling for action to combat global warming.

Mr. Obama warned that manufacturing jobs will not be returning to the large share of the American economy they were in the 1950s, but said the U.S. must begin to make things again.

“We’ve had this idea we could just be the consumers of everything,” Mr. Obama said. “At some point, we’ve got to start selling stuff.”

On the economy as a whole, Mr. Obama said he’s seen some encouraging signs in at least some places.

“There is some return to normalcy in some aspects of the financial markets,” he said.

But he said work needs to be done to boost employment. And on that issue, the recovery board said there’s a big opportunity but also a major challenge with new energy-related jobs, which the panel said the U.S. has been slow to encourage.

“How far behind are we?” Mr. Obama asked. The business leaders said the pieces are there, but they are waiting for a push from the government.

“We have the technology. We have the smarts here and the product technologies. The economic incentive is what’s needed,” said Jim Owens, chairman and chief executive officer of manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc.

Members of the board said passing a global warming bill that sets a price for carbon emissions will give businesses a much-needed sense of the rules they must follow.

Mr. Obama said the bill making its way through a House committee this week is a good start, as he acknowledged his own plan wasn’t going to pass. Mr. Obama had called for creating a system of allowances for carbon emissions and auctioning all of them off, but Democrats in Congress feared that would put at a disadvantage Midwest and Southern consumers whose energy comes from coal.

“Politically, it ends up being difficult,” he said of his own plan.

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