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President in stop at Pueblo wind tower factory touts ‘Bidenomics,’ blasts Boebert

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President in stop at Pueblo wind tower factory touts ‘Bidenomics,’ blasts Boebert

Nov 29, 2023 | 8:21 pm ET
By Chase Woodruff
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President in stop at Pueblo wind tower factory touts ‘Bidenomics,’ blasts Boebert
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President Joe Biden, flanked by CS Wind employees, addresses the crowd at the plant in Pueblo Wednesday. (Mike Sweeney for Colorado Newsline)

Tony Salerno is a former steelworker who has worked at CS Wind’s sprawling wind tower factory outside of Pueblo for 10 years. Only a few years ago, he said Wednesday, the plant — the largest manufacturer of wind towers in the world — was struggling amid an uncertain outlook for the clean energy industry.

“We had recently been through a layoff, and our future was in question. When President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, this factory found life,” said Salerno, CS Wind America’s production manager, as he introduced Biden on the facility’s floor.

The president’s stop in Pueblo, a blue-collar town and political battleground on Colorado’s southern Front Range, comes ahead of a pivotal election year during which the Democrat will look to sell voters on the IRA and its $369 billion in clean energy spending and tax credits as he bids for a second term.

Beneath banners reading “Bidenomics” and “Investing in America,” Biden said his landmark climate law, passed by slim Democratic majorities in Congress in 2022, is already benefiting communities like Pueblo. CS Wind broke ground earlier this year on a factory expansion that the company says will double its output and add more than 800 new jobs.

“When I think climate, I think jobs,” Biden said. “That’s what climate is about — not only saving lives and saving the environment, but jobs.”

Echoing earlier remarks made at a Denver fundraiser on Tuesday — part of a Colorado visit that was rescheduled after a postponement last month following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war — Biden blasted Pueblo’s representative in Congress, Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican who has called the IRA a “massive failure.”

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Boebert wrote prior to Wednesday’s event that Biden “should be coming here to apologize for his all out war on on fossil fuels and his Green New Deal agenda which have cost the great people of Colorado’s 3rd District dearly.”

Boebert won reelection last year by a razor-thin 546-vote margin, and is expected to face another tough challenge from Democratic former Aspen City Council member Adam Frisch in 2024.

“She’s one of the leaders of this extreme MAGA movement,” Biden said in a speech that lasted about 20 minutes. “She along with every single Republican voted against the law that made these investments and jobs possible.”

“Do you all know you’re part of a ‘massive failure’?” he said to laughter from a crowd that included CS Wind workers. “Tell that to the 850 Coloradans who will get new jobs in Pueblo at CS Wind thanks to this law. Tell that to the local economy that benefits from these investments.”

‘A great transition’

Scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned world leaders that in order to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming, governments must cut global greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by midcentury.

Biden, who recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Agreement on climate change shortly after taking office, has endorsed those goals. In addition to tax incentives for wind and solar power generation, the IRA’s $369 billion package of clean energy measures established a new rebate of up to $7,500 for electric vehicles, along with a variety of grant programs to boost home energy efficiency and the electrification of home heating systems.

Pueblo is a clean energy leader. But you might have to look close to see it.

“We’re at a moment in history where 50 years from now, people are going to look back at this period as the beginning of a great transition — a global transition to clean energy, to new innovations in technology, to a better way of life,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper ahead of Biden’s remarks. “And I think that this great transition is starting right here in Pueblo.”

But a report released this year by the Rhodium Group, an influential energy think tank, concluded that even with the IRA, the U.S. is likely to fall significantly short of Biden’s goal of a 50% to 52% overall emissions cut by 2030. Depending on a wide range of economic variables, the group projects that current federal law will achieve emissions reductions of between 29% and 42% by that date — though actions taken at the state and local level could push that figure higher.

“While critical, these federal regulatory policies will need to be paired with ambitious state actions,” the report’s authors wrote. “The IRA is the most substantial federal action the U.S. has ever taken to combat climate change, but it was not intended to solve every decarbonization challenge in one bill.”

Biden’s Pueblo visit came just one day prior to the opening of a major U.N. climate conference known as COP28 in Dubai on Thursday. The White House announced this week that the president will skip those talks, with Vice President Kamala Harris taking his place.

‘A lot of work ahead’

At the factory just south of Pueblo, which was formerly owned by Danish company Vestas, workers bevel, curve and weld together the enormous sections of steel plate that are shipped in 60- to 80-foot segments to be assembled at wind farms all over the country.

CS Wind executives estimate that producing 75,000 new wind turbines by 2030, as the Biden administration has promised, will mean manufacturing 45,000 wind tower sections per year — triple the industry’s current U.S. production capacity.

President in stop at Pueblo wind tower factory touts ‘Bidenomics,’ blasts Boebert
President Joe Biden waves to the crowd as he makes his entrance at a rally at CS Wind manufacturing plant in Pueblo on Nov. 29, 2023. Biden used the plant as a backdrop to tout his legislative victories that are mobilizing investments in clean energy manufacturing. (Mike Sweeney for Colorado Newsline)

The Pueblo factory’s $200 million expansion, expected to be completed by 2028, is part of more than $1 billion in public and private investment in Colorado’s clean energy sector that has been announced in the last year, said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat. Since being elected in 2018, Polis has overseen an ambitious climate agenda at the state level — though Colorado, too, is at risk of missing key greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in 2025 and 2030, state analyses have found.

“We’ve come a long way. We know there’s a lot of work ahead,” Polis said Wednesday. “With this federal funding partnership with President Biden and his administration, Colorado will continue to push the limits of what’s possible (and) drive innovation here in Pueblo and beyond.”

Along with the CS Wind expansion, Polis and his fellow Democrats have touted plans by manufacturers of batteries and solar panels to open new facilities in Colorado in the wake of the IRA’s passage. In Pueblo, which is already home to the world’s first and largest solar-powered steel mill, plans are underway for major new solar projects, utility-scale battery storage and a regional “carbon sequestration hub.”

Welcoming Biden, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar called the city “the renewable energy capital of Colorado,” and said emerging industries like wind and solar can help revive economic fortunes in a community that has struggled to recover fully from the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1980s.

“One of my goals as mayor is to help create an economy where every young person who wants to stay in Pueblo is able to find a job that will allow them to support their family,” Gradisar said.

“We know that we’re in the beginning stages of transitioning our economy and our country, and reducing our carbon footprint,” he added. “Together, we can make this successful for everyone. Let’s keep going.”