Biden Administration Unveils New “Buy Clean” Actions to Promote Clean U.S. Manufacturing

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Sep 15 2022 |
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other White House officials tour the Cleveland-Cliffs Toledo Direct Reduction plant in Ohio. Photo courtesy @WhiteHouseCSO on Twitter

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined other administration officials, United Steelworkers members and executives at a Cleveland-Cliffs facility in Ohio to announce the new guidance.

The White House on Thursday unveiled a new effort to embed “Buy Clean” policy across the federal government, aiming to ensure that when the U.S. government spends taxpayer money on infrastructure, it purchases low-emissions products.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and administration officials like General Services Administration Administrator Robin Carnahan and Deputy National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi visited Cleveland-Cliffs Toledo Direct Reduction facility in Ohio to tout the new effort. They even made a video:

It’s a noble goal. American industry will need to play a big part as the United States rightfully works toward lowering its carbon emissions. And if Buy Clean is implemented properly, it definitely will help the United States reach its climate goals while also strengthening American manufacturing.

But we’ve got to do it right. It’s essential that Buy Clean build upon strong Buy America policies — like the ones already included in the “Build America, Buy America” requirements that are part of the new infrastructure law — to make sure American workers and business can benefit from these new efforts.

Countries like China are using predatory trade practices to dominate global industries (see: steel). Although American manufacturers and workers are leading the way when it comes to lowering emissions — of the major steel-producing countries, the U.S. has the lowest CO₂ emissions per ton of steel produced, for example — a lot of the processes needed to further lower emissions and reach climate goals will require a whole lot of money to achieve.

If unfair trade ends up harming American manufacturers and workers, that will threaten these investments, and indeed the viability of American industry. And that could mean that the types of products that fall under Buy Clean would have to be imported from other countries that manufacture products that are far more polluting.

That would be an own goal, as the U.S. effort to lower emissions would actually result in importing products made with higher emissions. We obviously don’t want that to happen!

As Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul explained:

“[I]f Buy Clean isn’t properly integrated with Buy America preferences, U.S. workers and manufacturers could be undermined by foreign countries that are aiming to dominate global production, including through predatory state investments and overcapacity.

“That will stifle opportunities for American production and innovation, make the transition to a clean energy economy much more challenging, and won’t achieve the goal of lowering emissions anyway. 

“As Buy Clean efforts move forward, appropriate consideration must be given to the various production processes among domestic producers of steel and other products. Our climate goals are achievable, but rely on sizeable investments to spur technology developments as well as a stable market for returns on these investments. The newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to enable these advances within sectors that have been subjected to decades of unfair trade. ” 

O.K., O.K. — I didn’t mean for this blog to take such a dire turn! There’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Buy Clean, especially since American manufacturers and workers already are leading the way in working to lower emissions.

Take the Cleveland-Cliffs facility that the setting for today’s big announcement. Cleveland-Cliffs invested nearly $2 billion there to “advance sustainable, low-carbon intensity steelmaking.” Company-wide, Cleveland-Cliffs has announced a goal of lowering its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), including by reducing its GHG emissions 25% by 2030 from its 2017 levels.

American manufacturers and workers are up for the challenge of building a cleaner industry, and that’s why it’s so important that Buy Clean builds upon Buy America. As the federal government spends taxpayer money on new infrastructure, it must ensure that money is reinvested right back into the domestic producers who are making strategic investments to reduce their carbon footprint.

America’s factory workers and manufacturers have achieved big things before. With the right policy prescriptions, they can do it again.

“Climate change is one of the most daunting problems of our time, but the United States can lead the way in addressing it if we get our policy response right,” Paul said. “Let’s make sure Buy Clean builds upon Buy America so we can turn our climate challenges into new opportunities and build a green economy that is truly Made in America.”