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The Future of Green Jobs by Lindsay Tallon

Posted by: | April 6, 2011 Comments Off on The Future of Green Jobs by Lindsay Tallon |

In his 2008 book The Green Collar Economy, activist and attorney Van Jones defines green collar jobs as “blue collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment” and “family supporting, career-track job[s] that directly contribute to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”[1]

The purpose of the “green collar economy” is to address the connected problems of environmental devastation and unemployment with a connected solution.

Green collar jobs include:

**renewable energy development and manufacture

**mass transit construction and operation

**installation of green roofs and other green construction, such as passive building

**water-conservation improvements, such as installing low-flush toilets and fixing leaks

**lighting improvements, such as installing sensors

**energy efficiency measures: energy auditing and retrofitting with modern insulation and weatherization

**urban gardening and landscaping projects

Jones created the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to provide educational and professional opportunities to California residents, with one of its four campaigns dedicated to promoting green collar jobs.

In 1996 this Green-Collar Job Campaign created a training program for low-income people in Oakland by securing $250, 000 in initial funding from the City and pulling together partners to run the program.

One main partner is a non-profit that conceptualizes green jobs training programs, raises funding for them, and serves as a job-finding service for graduates of green jobs programs. The other partner is a community college offering studies in green construction, solar installation, and energy efficiency retrofits, among other skills. For inspiring photos of the Oakland Green Jobs Corps’ first graduation ceremony, see http://www.ellabakercenter.org//index.php?p=gcjc_ogjc_graduation

Imagine a lot of these programs, and there’s a rosy future full of green jobs. Unfortunately, graduates of these types of programs are often unable to find a job in the green sector.[2] Growth in this sector has been slow because Congress has not comprehensively legislated on environmental protection and green jobs creation.

The following ideas for federal legislation are important for green job creation. However, they face many obstacles, some of which are described. Furthermore, they face the current House’s hostility toward environmental protection, as well as the science of global warming in general.[3]

First, Congress should shift subsidies from fossil fuels to green energy. This is necessary to create green jobs in green industries. As it stands, fossil fuel subsidies are drastically higher than renewables subsidies, making the cost of fossil fuel energy much lower than that produced by green energy technologies.[4] It will be difficult to shift these subsidies because the fossil fuel industry has great influence in Congress. Documenting an eighteen month period, a report by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the oil and gas industry outspent environmental interests by seven-to-one in lobbying and campaign contributions.[5]

This “money talks” situation was further entrenched by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, where the court held that it is an unconstitutional ban on free speech to limit corporate spending on independent political broadcasts during elections.

More evidence of the Court’s acceptance of money talks politics is likely forthcoming, as journalists predict the Court will declare unconstitutional an Arizona campaign finance law that provides funding to state candidates who do not accept corporate or union contributions. The law provides candidates with funds matching those of candidates who do accept such contributions.[6]

Second, Congress should allow EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. EPA made an endangerment finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, thus making them subject to regulation under the Act.[7]

Unfortunately, Congress is moving in the opposite direction by considering multiple bills to repeal EPA’s newly-appreciated authority to regulate GHG emissions.[8]

One of these bills, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, would repeal the EPA Administrator’s December 2009 determination that CO2 endangers human health and welfare.[9] As a result, it would remove EPA’s authority to create and implement GHG emissions standards for new motor vehicles as well as GHG emissions regulations on new large industrial sources (such as power plants and refineries).[10]

This bill will hopefully face an uphill battle in Congress, especially considering the EPA’s recently released, peer-reviewed report finding the CAA will have direct benefits of $2 trillion for its operation between 1990-2020, compared to $65 billion in costs.[11] But similar language, crafted as an amendment to the small business bill, may be passed as early as this week in the Senate.[12]

Third, Congress should put a price on carbon. A large number of notable public officials, scientists, economists, journalists, and environmental, business, and religious groups deem a carbon tax essential to address climate change.[13]

However, last session’s Senate rejected the House-approved American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which would have instituted a cap and trade system for carbon. Although the bill was criticized by some environmentalists for having low emissions reduction targets, for freely giving away most of the carbon credits to utilities, and for facilitating offsets despite unresolved difficulties in measuring the resulting reductions,[14] it would have at least been a symbolic gesture to address global warming. Now, Congressional members are openly denying the science of global warming,[15] and the American population’s level of concern over global warming has declined over the last two years.[16]

Finally, Congress should commit funds for direct spending in the same areas that job training programs target: green construction, green energy, and mass transit jobs. A recent report prepared under commission of the non-partisan public policy organization Center for American Progress recommends a $100 billion recovery act targeted to green job creation, with the money to be spent over two years.[17]

This could expand on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which gave close to $100 billion[18] (out of $787 billion[19]) to green measures, including energy efficiency, green energy development and production, smart grid development, radioactive and hazardous waste cleanups, and green jobs training programs.[20] The Act passed by a relatively wide margin, by votes of 244-188 in the House and 61-37 in the Senate.[21] Perhaps Congressional representatives will be similarly willing to support an expansion of green job creation this session.

These are some of the federal initiatives necessary to shift to a low carbon economy, creating green jobs along the way. I provided a largely bleak prognosis of their political feasibility. But political feasibility is a short-term concept and these long-term necessities will eventually be on the discussion table. In the meantime, let’s be inspired courtesy of Ronald Reagan, whose words demonstrate that federal political discourse in the 1980s stooped to low points at least as deceptive and misguided as today (and we know good things happened in between):

“If the federal government had been around when the Creator

was putting His hand to this state, Indiana wouldn’t be here.

It’d still be waiting for an environmental impact statement.”[22]

-40th President of the United States, 1981-1989

[1] Jones, Van. The Green Collar Economy. HarperOne: 2008. p. v, 12.

[2] See Fletcher, Michael A. Retrained for green jobs, but still waiting on work. The Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/22/AR2010112207583.html?wprss=rss_business

[3] Kolbert, Elizabeth. Uncomfortable Climate. The New Yorker, Nov. 22, 2010, p. 53 and at http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/11/22/101122taco_talk_kolbert

[4] Morales, Alex. Fossil Fuels Subsidies are Twelve Times Renewables Support. Bloomberg, July 29, 2010. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-29/fossil-fuel-subsidies-are-12-times-support-for-renewables-study-shows.html

[5] Mackinder, Evan. Center for Responsive Politics. Pro-Environment Groups Outmatched, Outspent in Battle Over Climate Change Legislation. Aug. 23, 2010. http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/08/pro-environment-groups-were-outmatc.html

[6] Jones, Ashby. High Court Signals Arizona Campaign Law May Be Doomed. The Wall Street Journal, Law Blog. March 29, 2011. http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2011/03/29/high-court-signals-arizona-campaign-finance-law-may-be-doomed/?mod=google_news_blog

[7] See Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Massachusetts et al. vs. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.pewclimate.org/epavsma.cfm

[8] See Doniger, David. Groundhog Day: Rockefeller Re-Run is Bad News for Both Public Health and the Future of West Virginia. Switchboard: Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. Feb. 2, 2011. http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ddoniger/groundhog_day_rockefeller_re-r.html; eNewsUSA. House Committee Approves H.R. 910, Senate Offers it as Amendment. March 16, 2011. http://enewsusa.blogspot.com/2011/03/house-committee-approves-hr-910-senate.html; Hawkins, Dave. Why does Congress have Clean Air Act Phobia? Grist. March 18, 2011. http://www.grist.org/climate-policy/2011-03-18-why-does-congress-have-clean-air-act-phobia

[9] EPA. Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. Updated Jan. 28, 2011. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html

[10] EPA. Regulatory Initiatives. Updated Jan. 28, 2011. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/initiatives/index.html

[11] EPA. Second Prospective Study1990 to 2020. March 2011. http://www.epa.gov/oar/sect812/prospective2.html

[12] Babington, Charles. Senate Vote On EPA Restrictions Slated for Wednesday. The Huffington Post. March 30, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/30/senate-vote-on-epa-restri_n_842428.html

[13] The Carbon Tax Center. Supporters. Last Updated: Nov. 28. 2010. http://www.carbontax.org/who-supports/

[14] See Wikipedia. American Clean Energy and Security Act. Debate among environmental organizations and scientists. Last updated March 23, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Clean_Energy_and_Security_Act

[15] Climate Progress. A science-free Congress? March 8, 2011. http://climateprogress.org/2011/03/08/a-science-free-congress/

[16] A Gallup poll shows that Americans who “worry a great deal or fair amount” about global warming declined from 66% in 2008 to 51% in 2010. The Global Warming Policy Foundation. US Poll: Global Warming Fears Cooling. March 14, 2011. http://www.thegwpf.org/international-news/2630-us-poll-global-warming-fears-cooling.html

[17] Pollin, Robert, et al. Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs & Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy. Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Sept. 2008. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/09/pdf/green_recovery.pdf

[18] BlueGreen Alliance. Recovery Act’s Green Investments Create or Save Nearly One Million Jobs. Feb. 17, 2011. http://www.recovery.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

To see a claim that ARRA has created or saved 3 million jobs: Hendricks, Bracken and Jorge Madrid. The Most Important Energy Bill in American History. Center for American Progress. Feb. 16, 2011. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/02/arra_energy.html

[19] U.S. government, Recovery.gov. Overview of Funding. As of March 18, 2011. 

[20] For a breakdown of ARRA funding, see Wikipedia. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Provisions of the Act. Last updated March 15, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Act_of_2009 – Energy_Infrastructure

[21] Id. Legislative History: House of Representatives and Senate.

[22] Admittedly I could not find evidence of these words anywhere but BrainyQuote.com. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/federal.html

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