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US can't afford to cede green energy industry to its competitors

America used to be the leader in clean energy, but it has been surpassed by China and others. The US can't afford to lose the jobs and economic benefits of green energy. Like its competitors, America needs standards that mandate percentages of green energy by key deadlines.

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Wind turbines lining the Altamont Pass near Livermore, Calif., generate electricity on May 12. Op-ed contributor Billy Parish writes: 'Polling shows that a clean energy economy appeals to people across the political spectrum. That’s because it’s not just about jobs.... It’s about avoiding a century of conflict and scarcity that come with climate change and diminishing natural resources.'

Noah Berger/AP

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The clean energy industry is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. It invented the solar cell. It designed and perfected the electric wind turbine. The sector has largely defied the economic recession, with worldwide investments soaring 600 percent between 2004 and 2011. The result? Texas now has more solar workers than ranchers. California now has more solar workers than actors. And the United States now has more solar workers than coal miners or steel workers. But we’re losing our edge.

Last year, for the first time, China surpassed the US in terms of total dollar investments in clean energy. America now ranks an unimpressive 10 on a list of countries ranked by clean energy capacity installed since 2006. It doesn't even make the top 10 lists for clean energy investment growth in the past five years.

This US drop matters because clean energy adds an outsized spark to the economy. The solar energy sector added jobs at nearly six times the rate of the rest of the economy in 2011-2012. The US added more green jobs during the recent economic recovery than jobs in any other sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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