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Bio-based chemicals to create US jobs

By Gracie Valena - 15 May 2011 22:16:0 GMT
Bio-based chemicals to create US jobs

A report from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst which was Commissioned by the BlueGreen Alliance is encouraging the United States to reform chemical industry regulations in the country to make the industry more environment friendly and to create more jobs.

How would reforming the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure the production of chemicals that are safer for workers, the environment and human health, create jobs?

According to the report, jobs in the U.S. chemicals industry has been declining because it is capital intensive rather than labor intensive. However, shifting to the production of bio-based chemical products such as biodegradable plastics means a shift to more labor-intensive production. The report estimates that if ''20 percent of current production were to shift from petrochemical-based plastics to bio-based plastics, 104,000 additional jobs would be created in the U.S. economy even if the output of the plastics sector remained unchanged.''

Aside from increasing jobs in specific sectors, there would also be more jobs created because of the linkages between sectors. Compared to petroleum-based chemicals, bio-based chemicals such as bioplastics, soy-based inks, biofuels, biocatalysts, and other chemicals and materials use raw materials from plants and trees. The production of these materials is more labor intensive than petroleum-production. At the same time, the materials are available in the U.S., so they don't need to be imported.

The report alleviates concerns that the quality of the jobs will be lower. It states ''a shift away from petroleum and towards clean energy would not be associated with a net loss of high-income jobs. The total number of jobs, including those with high and more moderate earnings, would increase.''

There is also the worry that shifting to agriculture-based chemicals would mean farmers would grow less food, in turn affecting food supply and prices. Thus, the report warns that ''Non-food biomass, including waste materials from food processing should be prioritized when developing alternative bio-based chemicals.''

It may be too optimistic, but there is indeed much to be hopeful about when there is a possibility that, as the report states: ''Better regulations will reduce environmental pollution, improve health outcomes, build a foundation for long-run sustainability of the U.S. economy, support technological innovations, and make markets work better for consumers, investors, and businesses.''

The report ''The Economic Benefits of a Green Chemical Industry in the United States: Renewing Manufacturing Jobs While Protecting Health and the Environment'' by James Heintz and Robert Pollin is available at www.bluegreenalliance.org and www.peri.umass.edu.