The Apollo Alliance, one of the best progressive ideas of the millennium, gained some important new supporters last week. Six new Democratic governors–Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)–joined an earlier three–Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)–in embracing the Alliance’s goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.

In an open letter to President Bush the six newcomers, joined by Richardson, applauded Apollo’s efforts and invited Bush to “lead a bold national project” to achieve its aims. The nine governors are all leaders in state-based efforts at energy efficiency and increased use of renewables, the core twin planks of the Apollo program.

That program calls for a national investment of $300 billion over the course of ten years to build the basic production and distribution infrastructure needed for a cleaner energy economy. Less than the estimated costs of the Iraq war (after just two years), the investment would pay for itself many times over. Direct economic benefits would include annual energy savings and improvements in our trade balance of about $200 billion; the creation of some 3 million permanent new jobs; and an added $1 trillion in GDP over ten years.

Given the enormous opportunities for energy savings in cities and renewable energy production in rural areas, Apollo would distribute savings and jobs to two distressed parts of our population. It would also give a kick to US manufacturing, giving companies a good reason to invest in the surging world market for clean energy products and technology. It makes both environmental and economic sense.

The Apollo program is being taken seriously by investors, as it begins to attract significant venture capital. A leading example is the Green Wave initiative, led by CA-Treasurer and Apollo national advisory board member Phil Angelides. Funded by CALPERS and CALSTERS, the leading public employee pension funds in California, Green Wave is investing close to a billion dollars to upgrade energy efficiency in those funds’ real estate holdings as well as in other promising clean technology firms. On the real estate side, the internal rate of annual return is upwards of 15 percent annually, making it an extremely attractive investment for institutional investors with comparable holdings.

Apollo is trying to replicate such investments in other states, seeking money from state or municipal bonds, pension funds, or private individual investors. This latest round of gubernatorial endorsements should help, as well as with the rest of Apollo’s ambitious state legislative program. Already, state politicians from both parties are beginning to realize that “good jobs through energy independence,” the Apollo mantra, sells well with the public. A recent poll by Yale University’s Center for Environmental Law & Policy found that an overwhelming 92 percent of American think our dependence on foreign oil is a problem, with 68 percent rating it a “very serious problem”–by far the highest levels of public concern for any of the environmental issues polled.

Apollo has already gained the endorsement of virtually the entire labor movement (including both warring factions at the AFL-CIO), most major environmental groups, a slew of civil rights and community organizations (both urban and rural), and a growing number of business leaders. Now, with more governors coming on board, it may be reaching a critical mass in tipping state legislation, if not yet federal, toward a clean energy future.

The governors’ announcement last week was timed to coincide with the naming of members of the Congressional conference committee charged with reconciling the competing House and Senate energy bills. What’s important about the announcement is not just the momentum it shows for Apollo, but who it came from.

As we’ve often argued in this space (and in the Nation‘s pages), the states may well decide the future of American progressive politics. Next year, 37 governors will be elected in them. These nine “Apollo governors,” many of whom face reelection battles in 2006, have just raised the bar on what qualifies as progressive state leadership on economic development and the environment. More power to them.

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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger ( living in Brooklyn.