As an entrepreneur and resident of Ohio I am used to swimming upstream. Ohio's economy never actually recovered from the 2001 recession. We have been hemorrhaging jobs and population for over a decade. Except for two nuclear power stations and some tiny "green energy" pilot projects, our state is powered by coal fired power plants dotting our lakes and rivers. With our energy intensive manufacturing economy there are few places in the country which will be more affected by Cap and Trade legislation than Ohio.
Short of a nuke-wielding dictator threatening to wipe us off the map, it is hard to imagine a more existential threat to our state than passage of Cap and Trade. Most of my fellow business owners understand the threat. Many will abandon the region should Cap and Trade pass.
But what is glaringly obvious to people who have to worry about generating a profit in order to make payroll is lost on many others. Here in the alternative universe -- and Democratic stronghold -- existing within 50 miles of Cleveland many people who should be strongly opposed to Cap and Trade are supporters.
It's a 30-minute drive up Interstate 77 from Belden's plants to the United Steelworkers Union office just outside Canton. Former steelworker Joe Holcomb, now a district representative for the union, says that a dozen years ago the union had 65,000 members in the state. It's now about 50,000.
Like Brown, Holcomb and union members see the climate bill debate in Washington as a path to new manufacturing jobs and way to push those numbers up again -- or at least stem the slide. That's why the national union strongly backs the cap-and-trade legislation.
If energy prices jump, Holcomb says he'll put up a windmill and generate his own power.
But he's not exactly a tree-hugging environmentalist. He recalls the push decades ago to clean up Ohio's rivers and sooty air from factory smokestacks. The water became cleaner, the air healthier, but factories closed, production became more expensive, jobs were lost, he said.
His warning to those in Washington: Don't make the same mistake.
"If we're just going to put a bill in and say we're going to clean the air ... but not create jobs, we've already seen that happen. We've got to do it in a way that's going to bring jobs into this country and not let them go out of here."
Many of the union's members work across town, producing specialty steel at a mill owned by the Timken Co., a $5.6 billion global manufacturer of high-grade precision bearings for everything from cars and locomotives to jetliners and giant wind turbines. Of its 25,000 employees worldwide, about 5,000 are in Ohio.
Its electricity bill for the steel mill and five other Ohio facilities runs as much as $50 million a year.
Ward "Tim" Timken Jr., company's chairman, said the USA has no business capping carbon pollution and fossil fuel use unless other countries act as well.
I might be able to forgive a guy whose union members work in steel mills fueled in large part by natural gas. After all, $50 million in electricity is less than 1% of Timken's revenue. But the madness does not end there.
A rally in downtown Cleveland in support the bill was promoted as part of a "Made in American Jobs Tour." There barely was a mention of the cap-and-trade idea -- and barely a crowd, maybe 50 people.
Donald Opatka, a regional director of the Utility Workers of America, speak of the need to "transition to a cleaner energy transmission system" that will produce new jobs and save old ones.
Later, in an interview, Opatka noted the irony of his participation. Many of his union's members work at coal-burning power plants that are the climate bill's target.
"It's a real conflict for us," he said. But in the long run, climate legislation "is going to happen and we can either put our heads in the sand ... or get our oars in the water" and position workers for clean energy jobs.
Yes, you read it right. A guy who represents the poor schleps who toil away in coal fired power plants -- the very facilities Obama says Cap and Trade will "bankrupt" -- supports the legislation. Maybe he is hoping his guys can land a gig in the unicorn feces processing facilities which will soon be popping up all around Ohio.