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President Bush seems intent on creating jobs as far away from planet earth as possible. With unemployment still high, and continued instability in Iraq, this administration’s sudden interest in space travel is more the result of presidential politics than a true commitment to re-establishing American leadership. A better, if more low profile Apollo Plan was unveiled this week by the Apollo Alliance, a broad coalition including business, labor, environmental, farm and civil rights groups.

Named after JFK’s program to put a man on the moon in under a decade, the New Apollo Project is as ambitious as the space program and as necessary as the inter-state highway system. A recently released report by an independent economist shows that a New Apollo Project will create more than three million new jobs by investing in the transition to new energy systems and modernizing our infrastructure. It will also rebuild cities, strengthen the economy, and free America from oil dependency – all in under a decade.

In the past, economic policies have too often pitted advocates of workers rights and environmentalists against each other. Policy fights over everything from fuel efficiency for cars and trucks to drilling in Alaska have divided more than united. But now unions see the chance to grow the labor movement. Environmentalists see the opportunity to get real investment in clean energy. Businesses, which are starting to join the coalition, see the chance to make a lot of money, while civil rights and urban leaders recognize the value of reinvesting in communities, shared public infrastructure, and good jobs.

And everyone sees a way to break through partisan politics in Washington.

The need is obvious. We’ve lost 3 million jobs since 2001, most in the manufacturing sector, which is the backbone of the American middle class. Meanwhile, Japanese and European competitors have increased their global market share of solar panels – a technology American companies invented – from 25 to 50 percent. Europeans dominate 90 percent of the world’s wind turbine production.

American companies are getting left behind because the Japanese and European governments make smart investments in clean energy while we cut taxes and subsidize the oil industry.

There are few technological obstacles to making Apollo happen. What is needed is forward looking vision, and a commitment to solve the most pressing problems of our day. What we need is leadership that rally’s our country to confront today’s, not yesterdays, challenges.

Apollo’s $30 billion annual investment will go into everything from saving the American auto industry by subsidizing and accelerating the transition to hybrids and hydrogen cars to retrofitting old buildings to create new demand for solar and wind power. In contrast to the economic growth caused by the dot com exuberance of the late nineties, Apollo is about helping American companies make real things for real people.

If American economists agree on anything it’s that inventing new technologies, investing in infrastructure, and creating whole new industries is what America does best. Like our investment in highways, microchips and even the Internet, Apollo will more than pay for itself. Not only will it save consumers over $200 billion by making our current production and use of electricity far more efficient, Apollo will return over $300 billion to the US treasury in new revenue, as wages and profits rise.

Apollo will create jobs in construction, manufacturing, transportation, building and maintenance. And by modernizing our industrial base, it will save millions of jobs in manufacturing that are now at risk to foreign competition. It will also invest in protecting essential public services, and help municipal governments as they feel the pinch of the worst state fiscal crisis since the great depression. Unlike many of the jobs that are replacing lost manufacturing, Apollo jobs will be in sectors of the economy that tend to pay a living wage and offer health, retirement and other benefits.

Apollo will benefit working-class families in African American, immigrant and white communities, as well as provide good jobs for engineers and professionals.

Energy efficiency and savings on this scale will clean up our air, reduce our commute times, make our neighborhoods more livable, reduce crime, expand the middle class, and broaden economic opportunity across class and race.

Apollo will also free our foreign policy from the influence of oil, which has constrained our ability to deal with Saudi Arabia and other countries with well-documented ties to terrorist groups. And it will help the planet, easing environmental pressures like global warming.

Any way you look at it, this new Apollo project is a good bet for America.

Michael Shellenberger is Executive Director of the Breakthrough Institute and a member of the Apollo Alliance Steering Committee.

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