Congress Gets to Work on Stimulating Green Jobs, Doling Out Energy Dollars

green-jobs-sign.jpgThe Senate passed President Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan Tuesday morning. But in order to reach the weekend deadline for passage, Congress will be very busy trying to hash out the differences between the $819 billion House version of Obama’s plan and a Senate bill costing $838 billion. Among the line-items expected to be hotly debated are those related to jobs creation, specifically green jobs creation.
As it stands, most of the $70 billion to $80 billion directed in the stimulus toward the energy sector will go toward green jobs, taking the form of either direct spending, loan guarantees or tax breaks. But what will those jobs will look like? And how far will they go toward both righting the economy and abetting global warming?
During last week’s State of Green Business Forum, a common chorus about green jobs was the uncertainty over what makes a job green. For example: does the truck driver delivering PV panels have a green job?

At the moment, lawmakers might consider getting people back to work more important than quibbling over how green a green job needs to be. Still, those lobbying for clean energy are closely monitoring the fate of some specific items, such as $2 billion for FutureGen, a controversial proposal for a low-emissions coal-fired power plant. Some clean energy advocates say FutureGen represents misguided energy spending because clean coal is unproven and expensive while solar, wind and other forms are already developed. In fact, the Department of Energy pulled its support for the project last year, citing its high costs.
That said, lobbyists might decide to pick their battles, and spend more time promoting the much larger portion – $20 billion – that the stimulus could put toward developing the smart grid (building out the technology, establishing transmission lines, etc).
In a story on today’s NPR Morning Edition, Christopher Joyce talked to a University of Massachusetts economist Robert Pollin, whose calculations show that the stimulus could infuse the US with about 2 million new jobs. But Pollin goes on to say that where people are put to work really matters. For example, he told Joyce that $1 million spent on making buildings more energy-efficient employs many more Americans than the same amount spent on oil and gas exploration, which requires fewer, but more highly skilled workers.
And with new construction and remodeling slowing way down, there is a huge pool of unemployed folks who are eager to join green renovation teams.
The American labor movement is really pushing for green jobs, as long as they stay on American soil and pay a livable wage. In fact, reps from the AFL-CIO, US Steelworkers, the Teamsters joined in DC last week with clean energy advocates at the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference. The many lawmakers who also attended that event received a clear signal: the labor and clean energy movements are acting in accord to push for green jobs.
In the end, however, it won’t really matter how much of a boost green jobs get in the US, given that global warming is, of course, global. China, the top polluter in the world with per-capita emissions rising four to six times faster than ours, is set to wipe out any gains we make. That’s why the Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change have jointly recommended a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao to “outline a plan of action against global warming and create high-level councils in both countries to develop ways to implement it,” reports the L.A. Times.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

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