'Clean Economy Now’: An Interview With E2 Director and Author Bob Keefe

Bob Keefe is E2’s executive director, overseeing all aspects of E2’s work and its staff and chapters stretching from New York to San Diego. E2 is a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and professionals from every sector of the economy who advocate for smart policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment.

Keefe is the author of two books on the economics of climate change: “Climatenomics: Washington Wall Street and the Economic Battle to Save Our Planet” (2022) and “Clean Economy NOW: Stories from the Frontlines of an American Business Revolution” (2024) and co-author of several other business-related books.

REM spoke with Keefe about his latest book "Clean Economy NOW: Stories from the Frontlines of an American Business Revolution." Featuring a foreword by former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Clean Economy NOW" takes readers from inside the halls of Congress and the frenetic cobbling together of the most important climate policies in history in 2021-2022 to the noisy assembly lines and innovative laboratories now producing the building blocks of a new, cleaner economy.

It also warns what could happen if elected officials roll back these critical policies: Lost jobs, lost investments, and lost opportunity to make America competitive in a $23 trillion global clean energy marketplace and reduce the economic cost of escalating climate disasters.

REM: What inspired you to write this book?

Bob Keefe: Well, to put it simply, after spending more than 20 years as a journalist, I saw this revolution that was occurring in our economy in America as a great story that needed to be told.

I mean, since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act here, and President Biden’s signing it into law, nearly 300 major, clean energy projects have popped up all around the country. There’s been $115 billion worth of private sector investment – and that’s not government grants and loans, that’s companies investing in America.

As a result of all this, we’ve seen 102,000 jobs created so far, and not just in one specific sector. We’ve seen jobs created by the opening of new electric vehicle factories in North and South Carolina and Georgia. We’ve seen battery plants sprout up in Kansas and North Carolina. And it goes on and on. I mean, we’ve even got a lithium mine in Nevada. So it’s just a huge story in my opinion.

REM: Well, I have to say I agree with you there. It almost seems like we’re currently standing on a kind of middle ground, where if we look back over our shoulder we can see the old economy in full, and if we look ahead, there’s an all-new future ahead of us.

Bob Keefe: Exactly. And that’s another compelling thing to me.

I mean, we invented the solar panel. We, for the most part, invented lithium-ion batteries. But in the old economy, we let those things get away. As a result, today China controls 90% of the solar panel market and nearly 90% of the battery market.

But all of a sudden, things are beginning to change. We’ve got battery plants and solar panel factories popping up all over the country … in places like Dalton, Georgia, which is in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district … And in Alabama and Colorado.

It’s as if, all of a sudden, we had the opportunity to lead the world again.

REM: Okay, so you’ve mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene. For our readers who don’t know, I should explain that she’s a conservative Republican congresswoman from Georgia and a staunch opponent of almost everything the Biden administration represents. As a result, she’s one of those on Capitol Hill who is creating the headwinds against this new economy you’ve written about.

Bob Keefe: Absolutely, I mean, look, there have already been more than 30 attempts to roll back or repeal parts of the Inflation Reduction Act – legislation that, among other things, represents the biggest investment ever made in renewable energy and other climate-related initiatives.

The irony is, many of these repeal efforts have been championed by lawmakers whose states or districts are benefiting the most from the IRA and administration policies.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at our tracker, but it clearly shows that the majority of clean energy projects that have gotten underway since the passage of the IRA in 2022 – about 60% – have been in Republican congressional districts. Georgia, in fact, is leading the nation in new projects. South Carolina is number two or three, and North Carolina is number three or four.

REM: So why is that?

Bob Keefe: Great question. If anything, I think it’s because they need more energy down there due to the sunbelt being the center of population growth and business development in this country.

When you talk about manufacturing, whether it’s solar panels or cars or batteries, it’s those areas in the sunbelt, southern states primarily, that have the skilled workforce to take on the challenges of the future economy I write about.

For instance, you have a large population that has come out of the textile industry and the same is true for the furniture industry. It’s a manufacturing based economy. So those are a few factors that are fueling the growth of the renewable energy economy in places like the Carolinas and Georgia.

The other thing that I would submit to you is the next wave of the auto industry that has been setting up down there. I was actually a reporter with The Greenville News in South Carolina when BMW announced it was building its world headquarters in the area.

“After that you started to see other companies coming to places like Tennessee. I think Toyota went to Kentucky, So we’ve had this steady movement of vehicle manufacturing to that region because, quite naturally, manufacturers are going to look to expand in places they already know.

Once you get that kind of activity, the next thing that happens is you start to see people adding on battery factories and things like that.

REM: Right

Bob Keefe: The other thing. And I’m sorry to interrupt. I don’t mean to ramble. But you’re talking about a region that’s home to the world’s biggest airport, In Atlanta, Georgia, a great maritime port system and Interstates 95 and 85 that enable you to move products all over the country.

REM: So let’s step back a moment. You’ve laid out a great case for setting up shop in the U.S., but many of the same lawmakers who push back on President Biden’s energy policies also appear to be resistant to things like foreign direct investment. I mean, during the early presidential primaries, one candidate was criticized for talking to potential Chinese investors who wanted to invest in her state.

But given how the renewable energy industry has grown up outside the U.S., isn’t foreign direct investment a key to fostering the industry here?

Bob Keefe: I think so. And again, it dates back to BMW and the example it set by choosing to invest in South Carolina. But that said, I think lawmakers are actually much more open to this kind of investment than you’re suggesting. They just prefer to talk about it differently. What they embrace is the jobs and opportunities that those investments, which are frankly playing a leading role in the economy right now, represent.

Let me share a little anecdote. Not long ago, as part of writing this book, I visited several solar panel factories in Dalton, Georgia, operated by Qcells, which is a major manufacturer of photovoltaic cells headquartered in Seoul, South Korea.

Then I went to Commerce, Georgia to visit SK Battery, another Korean-owned company that manufactures high-capacity lithium-ion batteries here.

Now, when you drive into Commerce, Georgia, you see all the prerequisites – there are something like five Baptist churches and a couple of truck stops and some chicken dinner places, all within a very short distance of each other. And then you come to the big battery factory and there’s a Korean flag flying outside. And they’ve renamed the road SK Boulevard or something like that. And now, all of a sudden, you see a lot of Korean restaurants and so forth popping up. So that’s an example of how a foreign investment is embraced in small town America.

REM: You know, I get the sense, from the tone of your book and this conversation, that you’ll soon be referred to as Joe Biden’s favorite author.

Bob Keefe: [laughs]

REM: But here’s the thing, in poll after poll, the president doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves for making this transition happen. Voters, the pollsters tell us, are incredibly dissatisfied with the economy. They don’t seem to see these good things happening. What’s the disconnect?

Bob Keefe: Well, I truly believe that we are at the advent of the biggest economic revolution we've seen in this country in generations. Problem is, as you said, nobody knows it. Or not enough people know it. But that will change.

At the same time, the unfortunate nature of partisan politics is that one side always wants to make the other side look bad. So they discount and downplay what's happening, because the things that are happening are byproducts of the policies the other side passed. I think you're seeing a lot of that now.

But at the same time, you’re starting to see the administration actually getting out and taking more credit. Frankly, I think the administration needs to do a better job of telling the story of the economic benefits that are resulting from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Chips Act and other legislation.

And people need to realize that this growth and development and transformation they are seeing in their communities is happening for a reason. It's happening because of the policies that were passed in Washington 20 months ago. And it's happening because of the leadership of the administration, and those members of Congress who see that we can have a good environment and a good economy.

REM: So do you think, should Joe Biden be reelected, that some of this opposition to his energy and climate policies will subside, or at least go on a low boil?

Bob Keefe: I hope so. I mean, this is the opportunity for America to take a leadership role in what is expected to be a $23 trillion global business for clean energy. clean vehicle products, and so on.

When has it become a partisan issue to create jobs? Or to attract investments to drive economic growth?

It really is not beneficial when politicians try to score political points on every single issue. They should not be doing that when what we’re talking about is creating jobs and driving economic growth. And, oh, by the way, helping to address climate change.

REM: It’s funny you said it that way because the rhetoric on both sides seems to have changed over the years. Year ago, it was all about “The Inconvenient Truth” about climate change and now, it’s all about jobs;

Bob Keefe: Well, to be honest, I haven’t changed what I’ve been saying about this. My organization E2 has been around for 20, 25 years now. We’re a national organization of more than 10,000 business leaders who understand that we can’t have a good economy without a good environment. So we’ve been making this case for a long time.

What I like to say is climate change is no longer just an environmental issue. It's no longer just a social issue. It's no longer just an equity issue. It's an economic issue. And there are two sides to that economic coin, if you will.

There's the economic cost of climate change, which is killing our economy. You know, last year alone, I think we had $100 billion worth of weather disasters and climate related disasters – wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the east, flooding in the nation's heartland. That's an economic cost that we're all bearing.

At the same time, by shifting to cleaner energy, by taking climate action, we're creating jobs, we're driving economic growth, we're attracting investments and we’re becoming more competitive. So to me, climate action has always been an economic issue.

REM: Okay, now, again, assuming Joe Biden is reelected, my guess would be that in the second term we’re not going to see any more huge pieces of legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. Rather, I think expectations are that what we’ll see is every effort made to implement all of the things it promises. Is that your expectation?

Bob Keefe: Implementation is what's key right now. It’s hard to pass policy; especially one as sweeping as this, and everybody knows that. This was a monumental feat. But now we have to implement it.

And implementation isn't just making sure money flows to the states. It's making sure those states know what to do with that money. It's tackling things like workforce availability. I believe one of the biggest challenges in ensuring the success of these policies, is going to be finding enough workers to fill all these jobs.

In writing my book, I spoke to the heads of the companies on the front lines of this economic revolution, and almost all of them said one of their biggest problems is they can't find enough workers. So we've got to do something about workforce development and we've got to make sure this is done equitably, so that communities that were left behind by previous economic transitions aren't left behind again. And we have got to do this relatively quickly.

REM: So, I’ve posed a few questions here based on the premise of President Biden getting a second term. What happens to this economic revolution that you’ve written about if former President Donald Trump is elected in November? Or Bobby Kennedy, who is making an Independent run for the White House this year?

Bob Keefe: Well, my organization is a nonpartisan group. So we don’t talk about politics. But what I can say is, what we know is that Donald Trump has said he would roll back a majority of these policies if he’s elected – which would, of course, be disastrous for the new economy I’ve written about in my book.

By rolling back these policies, Trump would not only be hurting treehuggers in San Francisco, he would be hurting working folks in places like Georgia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Alabama, the places where these projects are going.

So again, what we need to elect in this country are politicians who can put partisan politics aside and see that this is good for our economy and for working people. So that regardless of who is in office, we can continue down the path to a cleaner economy.


Baterías con premio en la gran feria europea del almacenamiento de energía
El jurado de la feria ees (la gran feria europea de las baterías y los sistemas acumuladores de energía) ya ha seleccionado los productos y soluciones innovadoras que aspiran, como finalistas, al gran premio ees 2021. Independientemente de cuál o cuáles sean las candidaturas ganadoras, la sola inclusión en este exquisito grupo VIP constituye todo un éxito para las empresas. A continuación, los diez finalistas 2021 de los ees Award (ees es una de las cuatro ferias que integran el gran evento anual europeo del sector de la energía, The smarter E).