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For the first time in 45 years, we may soon see bars of aluminum coming out of a brand new factory in America. A thousand skilled workers will wake up each morning to work there, doubling America’s total output of primary aluminum.

The company behind this new factory, Century Aluminum, is currently scouting locations along the Ohio River Valley and Mississippi River Basin. Century has outlined plans to partner with nearby training facilities and technical colleges to bring local workers into the plant. The question is: Where should they put it? Kentucky? Ohio? Indiana? Somewhere else?

A deciding factor for the location of the massive new facility will be where it can access enough clean energy to power it. Policymakers in some of these states have been hostile toward renewable energy, even though it often provides cheaper electricity than polluting power plants.

This new economic opportunity is showing that, in addition to mitigating the dangerous impacts of climate change and strengthening our overall sustainability, this has the makings of an industrial renaissance the likes of which we haven’t seen in the U.S. for generations. If we work together and follow through on this promise, it’s safe to say our kids will look back on this period as a turning point in American economic and environmental history.

Industry—manufacturing the stuff that surrounds us and enables our daily lives, from aluminum to chemicals to concrete—will soon be America’s largest source of climate pollution if we do not modernize quickly. But modernization holds promise to improve more than the climate.

In many parts of the Rust Belt, prosperity has been elusive for decades. But the state that attracts the new aluminum factory will reap huge economic benefits: thousands of short-term construction jobs, long-term manufacturing jobs, and new tax revenue to invest in local schools, fire departments, and other public services.

And this project is just one of hundreds of new factories in development across our country in just the past two years since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Indeed, technological innovations mean industrial output no longer requires smokestacks belching toxic chemicals and climate pollution into the air we breathe and the water we drink.

But the promise is not yet quite realized. To reach that moment when the first workers show up for their new jobs, factories still need more private investment and engagement from state and local economic development agencies. We are so close—investors and economic development agencies can grow domestic production of clean goods in a global market that will demand more and more of this given the imperative to cut carbon.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has committed up to $500 million for this aluminum project, out of $6 billion in federal funds for these first of a kind ultra-modern, clean factories making critical goods here in America. These investments are providing a long-needed jolt to modernize production of iron and steel, cement and concrete, chemicals, heating systems, food and beverage products, glass, paper, and more.

America has seen decades of gradual disinvestment and offshoring of industrial jobs. The Inflation Reduction Act, along with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and CHIPS Act, are an acknowledgement that we cannot sit back and wait for the tide to roll in and lift all boats. Think of these new laws as the Biden administration designing the harbor and building the piers. Investors and private companies are starting to show up—but their boats must now dock in America’s port.

As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, since passage of these recent laws, “companies have announced $170 billion in new or expanded factories and mining projects in the U.S. that would add around 200,000 new industrial jobs.”

That’s billions in private investment that wouldn’t have gotten off the sidelines, and jobs that wouldn’t have been created, without modest, up-front government commitments. It’s a historically high rate of investment in manufacturing. It’s also definitive evidence American business and finance leaders agree a real opportunity is upon us.

The U.S. has an opportunity to regain the global competitiveness we once had. Until the turn of the millennium, America was the world’s largest producer of primary aluminum, the purest form of the metal product. Just over two decades later, we rank ninth with about 1.3% of global production. China, by contrast, generates about 58% of the world supply today, 10 times more than the next-largest producer, India.

Now is the time for decisive action in America to reclaim economic and national security. America can once again be a world leader producing planes and cars, building infrastructure, and manufacturing appliances and energy technologies. This is not about blue versus red. It is about onshoring jobs and opening factories. It is about keeping our kids healthy while producing modern industrial goods. It is about American security and prosperity.

In fact, even though no Congressional Republicans voted for the Inflation Reduction Act, a Wall Street Journal analysis showed that more than three-quarters of the factory and mining investments will go to Republican-held congressional districts for a total investment of about $112 billion—and that only includes investments in the two years since the law’s passage.

This is our moment. We face two paths. Either we follow through on the promise of a modern, clean industrial base here in America; or we cede the good jobs, jeopardize national security, risk an unsafe climate, and undermine America’s global competitiveness. The promise is ours to realize, the choice is ours to make.


Aggarwal is CEO of Energy Innovation and former Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy, Innovation, and Deployment in the Biden administration

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