Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:01 AM
By Jack Torry and Aofie Connors
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
WASHINGTON -- Declaring that "our nation's future is at issue," Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee said yesterday that government, industry and universities must develop cleaner-burning fuels, or "our nation will sputter to a halt."
In a speech at a Washington conference sponsored by the Brookings Institution, a research center, Gee endorsed a new Brookings report that calls for a major increase in federal spending to develop commercially viable clean energy that will not produce the greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming.
"We now have a groundswell of agreement: America's utter dependence on fossil fuels weakens us in critical ways," Gee said. "As supplies dwindle and our environment suffers potentially irreversible damage, we cannot sit idly by.
"I am fully determined that we will help reinvigorate our region's Rust Belt towns with green-collar jobs. American universities must apply our enormous resources leading this new industrial revolution."
The report was drafted under the supervision of James Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan. In addition to calling for more federal dollars, the report urges scientists at America's universities, industry and the federal government to pool efforts to develop the new technologies needed to produce clean energy.
Gee said a number of universities are working on clean-energy projects, but he said that "too much is occurring in isolation. Silo thinking will not pull us out of this crisis."
Instead, Gee said, America's universities "must capitalize on areas of mutual interest and greatest potential. Regional partnerships -- those proposed in this report -- make absolute sense."
President Barack Obama has called for more federal assistance for clean energy in his proposed plan to stimulate the nation's economy. The economic stimulus that the Senate probably will approve today includes $40 billion for energy programs, including $8.5 billion to subsidize loans for alternative-energy projects.
The conference was attended by Gee; Duderstadt; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Jeffrey Wadsworth, president and chief executive officer of Battelle in Columbus.
Brown reiterated a theme he has used since his campaign for the Senate in 2006: that cleaning the environment can produce tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
"Every commercial-scale wind turbine built uses the equivalent amount of steel as 225 midsize cars," Brown said. "Every time you turn on a light bulb powered by solar panels, you use enough glass to replace your car windshield."