Investing in energy technologies will increase US global competitiveness

In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama expressed his desire to find ways for the United States to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” our competitors abroad. I agree with his desire and I believe this is the best way for us to get America moving. Innovations in energy and vehicle technologies can carry our industries back into the position of worldwide leaders — we must get in gear to start leading the innovation charge before we are left behind by countries such as China and Japan.

Through the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we have already made solid and successful investments in companies that are researching auto-innovative solutions — smaller, lighter and more efficient batteries; more efficient biofuels; and stronger, lighter-weight body frames for tomorrow’s vehicles. We’re also investing in clean and renewable energy companies that are deploying today’s technology, including electric vehicles, wind turbine projects and geothermal energy.

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One such thriving program is the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program, also known as Section 136. These loans are making sound investments into the development and production of lighter yet stronger vehicle frames and more fuel-efficient vehicles that will help America wean itself off foreign sources of oil while also putting hardworking Americans to work in well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Recently some of my colleagues tried to halt this successful program, proposing that we use ATVM investment loan funds for other purposes. We debated, and I fought tooth and nail to keep this critical program in place. In the end it was Democrats and pro-business groups who made the argument in favor of keeping these innovation investment funds in place. Those groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, don’t always agree with Democrats on issues, but in this case we all recognized a common purpose of creating jobs and innovative technology and the very worthwhile investment for America’s future. No one wants to compete for last year’s technology, and if America is to be the leader in research and development of advanced technology vehicles, we need to make the investment today for tomorrow’s future.

It is disheartening to watch America stand by idly as China shamelessly manipulates its currency, subsidizes its industry to unfairly out-compete with ours and dreadfully underpays its workers. America is not in the business of subsidizing whole industries, but we need to think boldly and long-term if we are to be the leaders in technology innovation — and we need to make investments now. If we do not, we will cede our position as innovators, we will fall further behind our global competitors and be forced to rely on foreign technologies to power our cars, homes and businesses.

In my home state of Michigan, a company is already working on next-generation vehicle battery technologies. These batteries are lighter, have a higher energy density, require fewer rare-earth metals and are less toxic than today’s vehicle batteries. The company has already received multimillion-dollar offers to move their operations overseas. If we do not make the investments now in such companies, we will lose American-grown companies and their future research and manufacturing jobs to other countries.

I applaud the president for his recent proposals and bold ideas, and I question those in Congress who think we cannot or should not pass such initiatives. During my time in the House of Representatives, members of both political parties have come together time and again, putting aside partisan differences to do what’s right for the greater good of our nation. I hope that as the supercommittee continues its discussions it agrees that we need to invest in research and development that will help American companies hire workers and lead us back to the forefront of innovation leaders for the world.

Dingell is dean of the House of Representatives and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.