Buy-clean policies will revolutionize America’s economy

Workers at the Cleveland-Cliffs complex in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula produce iron ore pellets crucial to manufacturing top-quality steel—and helping America build a future that’s just as strong. The cleaner pellets, produced by members of United Steelworkers (USW) Locals 4950 and 4974, play a pivotal role in the integrated steel company’s drive to boost efficiency while significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Federal Buy-Clean policies would incentivize Cleveland-Cliffs and other manufacturers to continue implementing clean production practices just as the nation embarks on $1 trillion in infrastructure upgrades and seeks to cut carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases by at least half in this decade to avert the worst consequences of climate change. 

These policies would pay dividends now and well into the future. “Buy Clean” would ensure the government spends public infrastructure funds on low-carbon materials, like steel manufactured by USW members, so that the nation slashes climate pollution and improves public health while creating good-paying jobs and rebuilding roads, repairing bridges, and investing in transit systems.

Recognizing this opportunity, President Joe Biden recently took a major step toward the development of a clean economy. He signed an executive order that prioritizes federal purchases of low-carbon construction materials. The order lays out a critical roadmap to leverage investments in better emissions data and cleaner plants. It would also harness the federal government’s scale and purchasing power to boost early markets for cleaner alternatives. 

But that order will have maximum impact in conjunction with the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House in November. As it currently stands, Build Back Better would allocate billions of dollars for companies to assess emissions from their manufacturing processes and decarbonize their facilities. It would also provide funds for federal agencies to buy low-carbon materials for infrastructure projects.  

That’s why the USW, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and numerous other stakeholders support the legislation. It’s essential that the Senate pass the bill as quickly as possible. 

America’s steel industry already ranks among the cleanest in the world, thanks to practices that manufacturers implemented with the support and skill of union workers. Continuing to upgrade U.S. factories so that manufacturers across the board can produce the cleanest industrial materials on the market must be part of a national climate agenda. 

The House-passed Build Back Better legislation would provide the resources to build on these efforts and stimulate clean manufacturing across the economy, including other energy-intensive, high-emissions sectors like cement, chemicals, and concrete.

We need bills like this to reward companies that already adopted cleaner practices and incentivize others to make the necessary upgrades to their facilities. A federal investment can help transform entire supply chains, ensuring that new railways, highways and public buildings are constructed not only with low-carbon steel but also low-carbon concrete, glass, cement, and other components.

And modernizing the production of steel, cement, and other vital parts of the U.S. manufacturing base will make the nation more competitive in the global economy, create family-sustaining jobs and help build a cleaner, safer future for all. 

USW members at Cleveland-Cliffs are leading by example and demonstrating the potential of clean manufacturing. 

Congress now has a historic opportunity to spur this kind of transformation nationwide. The Buy-Clean provisions of the Build Back Better Act would revolutionize U.S. manufacturing and catalyze a new era of American prosperity. 

Roxanne Brown is the International Vice President at Large for the United Steelworkers (USW), which represents 850,000 workers employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in health care, public sector, higher education, tech and service occupations. Kit Kennedy is the Managing Director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists.

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