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Biden pushes LED lights in Durham visit

Speaking at Cree, Inc. in Durham Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden advocates for the widespread adoption of energy-efficient LEDs. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu accompanied Biden on the visit.
Speaking at Cree, Inc. in Durham Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden advocates for the widespread adoption of energy-efficient LEDs. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu accompanied Biden on the visit.

Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit to Durham Thursday to rally support for the government’s stimulus spending.

Visiting with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Biden spent the afternoon at the headquarters of Cree, Inc., a manufacturer of energy-efficient semiconductor materials, including light-emitting diodes.   

Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, the government has granted $2.5 billion in stimulus tax credits to manufacturers of green-energy products. Cree has received $39 million of the stimulus tax credits and has also been given $1.8 million in federal stimulus money for research and development.  

“It ties so much of what President [Barack] Obama and I are trying to do,” Biden said before a crowd of Cree employees and members of the media. “Job creation, innovation, environmental impact, domestic manufacturing, exporting American ingenuity around the world, it’s all in one package here at Cree.”

Biden added that Cree has created 375 new jobs since the beginning of 2009.  

“We want to export more of our technological capability, more of our products, we don’t want to import them, and we don’t want to be exporting jobs anymore,” he said.

Before Biden’s speech, Chu noted that the vast majority of LEDs are currently made in Asia. To encourage American manufacturers to produce LEDs, the Department of Energy has worked to increase efficiency in reducing costs and implement tougher lighting standards.

“I believe that making stuff is still a part of wealth creation,” he said.

Still, some said the government has no place meddling in or subsidizing American industries.

Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, said in an interview that tax credits are used by the government as an indirect way to garner bipartisan support for government spending. DeHaven did not attend Biden’s speech.

“It’s what I refer to as press release economics,” DeHaven said. “When Congress uses the tax code to give credits to particular industries or to incite particular behaviors, it’s effectively trying to pick winners and losers… there are companies out there that might have a better product or might have better prospects but they didn’t get the break.”

Some Cree employees, however, maintained that the tax credit simply brings jobs back home. Cree Chief Financial Officer John Kurtzweil noted that the credit accelerates an industry that does not currently exist in the United States.

Kurtzweil said he was particularly impressed by Chu’s in-depth discussion of LED technology because it indicates that LED is “really ready today.”

Biden pointed out that the economy was shrinking by 6 percent when the Obama took office, but noted that it is now growing by the same amount. Biden cautioned, however, that stimulus money would not necessarily solve all of the country’s economic problems and hard work lies ahead.

“Less bad is not good enough,” he said. “The Recovery Act wasn’t the horse designed to carry the whole sleigh, but without it, the sleigh wouldn’t be moving,”  

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, procured several tickets for students in his PubPol 196: “Crash: Politics, Policy & Media” course. Schoenfeld said a student in his class told him the event was a “fabulous experience.”

Freshman Lekha Ragavendran said Biden’s speech gave off a patriotic vibe.

“I thought it was very unifying but it didn’t really delve into specifics as much as just broadly covering the work he’s doing with the Middle Class Task Force and the Recovery act,” Regavendran said. “[Still], he was charming.”

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