There has been a lot of discussion about the energy package that is set to pass the U.S. House this week. But the media so far has missed one of the most interesting and innovative proposals that will be voted on: the Green Jobs Act of 2007. This ground-breaking legislation will make $120 million a year available across the country to begin training workers (and would-be workers) for jobs in the clean-energy sector. When the bill becomes law, 35,000 people a year will benefit from cutting-edge, vocational education in fields that could literally save the Earth.
Lofty as that sounds, the Green Jobs Act is responding smartly to an important, practical need. To beat global warming and meet the energy challenges of the future, the United States will need hundreds of thousands of “green-collar workers.” Such workers will be needed to install millions of solar panels, weatherize homes and other buildings, create a sufficient quantity of biofuels, build and maintain wind farms, and much, much more. Without these workers, the country will not have the working muscle and hands-on smarts to change our trajectory and fashion a different future.
There is an added bonus found in creating a strong, green-collar workforce: these energy-saving, air-quality-improving, carbon-cutting jobs can do more than just save the planet or help avoid oil wars in the future. For tens of thousands of Americans who are falling behind in the global job market, these work opportunities can also create “green pathways out of poverty.”
At their best, green-collar jobs offer living wages and upward mobility in growth industries. And most of these jobs simply cannot be outsourced to other countries. The reason is simple: the solar panels and wind farms must be constructed here in the United States, not overseas. And the millions and millions of buildings that need to be retrofitted to save more energy cannot be shipped over to China. They all must be weatherized where they stand — right here in the United States. Therefore, green-collar jobs can provide secure employment for U.S. workers.
The key is to make sure that those people who most need the jobs — urban youth, returning veterans, struggling farmers, displaced workers from our manufacturing sectors – can get all the training they need to fill those posts. Unfortunately, so far, the United States has no coherent strategy for training enough workers to meet the growing labor demand in the green- and clean-energy sectors.
Enter U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D.-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D.-Mass.), who introduced the Green Jobs Act of 2007. They have championed, with great passion and skill, the cause of helping a broad cross-section of workers get in on the ground floor of these growing industries. They have also worked to include some support for those trainees who may have barriers to employment (like a limited prior education, a history of incarceration, or children to support). By so doing, they have designed the Act such that those job-training dollars can fight poverty and pollution at the same time. Credit for the Green Jobs Act must also go to Rep. Markee (D.-Mass.), who chaired Pelosi’s select committee on climate change and energy independence. He also has been a passionate advocate for training the U.S. workforce for a cleaner, greener future.
But behind the scenes, it has been Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has made “green workforce development” a priority in her environmental agenda. She knows that we cannot have a successful clean-energy economy without a strong supply of well-trained clean-energy workers. She also sees the opportunity to move ecological solutions from being elite fetishes (hybrid cars, organic cuisine) to the basis of a massive economic engine, benefiting everyday American workers. Pelosi made it clear in a recent speech at Take Back America: she is committed to ensuring that the benefits of a cleaner, greener economy are shared broadly across society — including with the nation’s poor.
The Speaker is the first national leader — and the highest-ranking person in the U.S. government — to find a practical way to advance “green-collar jobs” as a cornerstone for the clean-energy revolution. She deserves due credit. So do the numerous advocacy organizations that have worked hard to get the legislation passed, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (where I work), the National Apollo Alliance, the Center for American Progress, the Workforce Alliance, Color Of Change, and others.
I just hope that this piece of legislation represents the tiny, first step in a massive effort. To avert ecological and social catastrophe, we must build a green economy that is strong enough to lift people out of poverty. We must take smart steps to help ensure that those communities that were locked out of the pollution-based economy are locked into the clean, green economy. As environmental leader Majora Carter often says, the nation should invest billions of dollars into “greening the ghetto.” The return in energy savings would be enormous; and the return in lives saved from violence and would be incalculable.
If we focus on practical steps to accelerate job creation in the green economy, we can save the polar bears — and the poor kids, too. Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes that to be true. This week, we will see if the rest of the House of Representatives agree with her.
For more information on how you can support the Green Jobs Act, click here.