Hooray! Hooray! Finally!

Yesterday, some House Democrats finally “connected the dots” on ways to solve two of the nation’s biggest problems: failing American job security and global climate security.

By addressing both issues simultaneously, these congressional leaders may re-energize the anti-poverty movement — and transform the debate on global warming.

U.S. Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) both sit on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed the committee. Markey is the chair.

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Yesterday the Select Committee held a special hearing, entitled: “Economic Impacts of Global Warming: Green Collar Jobs.”

(I was happy to provide testimony [PDF] at the hearing, along with Elsa Barboza [PDF] of SCOPE in Los Angeles and Jerome Ringo [PDF] of the Apollo Alliance.)

At the special hearing, Congresswoman Solis addressed the importance of using green collar jobs both as a way to curb global warming and as a pathway out of poverty.

Chairman Markey made an equally strong statement in favor of pursuing this strategy. And Senator Bernie Sanders has already been working hard on the Senate side, trying to get a "green collar jobs" proposal pushed through there.

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A green collar job is a vocational job in an ecologically responsible trade, for instance: installing solar panels, weatherizing buildings, constructing and maintaining wind farms, materials re-use and recycling, doing organic agriculture, etc.

Green-Collar Legislation Being Developed

During a speech on the House floor before the hearing, Congresswoman Solis spoke of the need to respond to the global warming crisis by investing not only in new infrastructure, but also in people.

The shift from dirty energy sources (like oil and coal) to cleaner energy sources (like solar, wind, and plant-based fuel) will produce hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The work of retrofitting millions of buildings so that they conserve energy will produce still more jobs. And all of these jobs will be, by definition, impossible to outsource to other countries.

Congresswoman Solis mentioned legislation she is drafting along with several other members. It will invest in green jobs as means to help workers and low-income people get in on the ground floor of this booming sector of the U.S. economy.

Her exciting new proposal would give federal support to “green collar job training” programs, which would help give U.S. workers (and would-be workers) access to the skills they will need to compete in the new green job market.

In the words of Solis’s Legislative Director Megan J. Uzzell: “Chairman Markey and Congresswoman Solis both understand the importance of saying to America’s workers, particularly those in urban and rural underserved communities, that there is a place for them in the green economy.”

I am eagerly awaiting the pending introduction of this legislation. It should pass both houses of Congress unanimously, right?

I mean, who could oppose such a measure?

GOP Still Clueless, But Learning

Funny you should ask …

The committee’s ranking Republican, James Sensenbrenner, didn’t get it at all. He questioned whether there was any such thing as a “green-collar job” — as distinct from any other kind of job.

Apparently, Sensenbrenner’s staff had not yet briefed him on the highly specialized nature of work in the emerging green industries. He even wondered aloud whether solar panel installation was any harder than plugging in a satellite dish. (No comment.)

Sensenbrenner also questioned whether the new eco-entrepreneurs shouldn’t pay for their own job training programs — and leave government funding out of it.

Of course, most countries work hard to nurture their growing industries. Their elected leaders see government-funded education and job training as one of the most basic ways to support them. Dumping 100 percent of the worker-training costs onto a nascent industry is one sure way to kill it in the cradle.

If U.S. green industries are going to compete and cooperate on the world stage, they will need the support of a well-trained, world-class green workforce. Unfortunately, unless Solis and Markey prevail, they may not have the workforce they need.

In fact, many eco-entrepreneurs fear that their growth will be constrained by a “green collar” labor shortage — unless there is a major increase in the quantity and quality of vocational job training.

Therefore, Solis’s proposals are not only good for low-income workers. Worker training will also greatly aid green industries and businesses.

Once Sensenbrenner figures that one out, maybe he will get his GOP colleagues to embrace this novel approach to uplifting the nation’s poor.

Here is Congresswoman Solis’s opening statement, one of the first-ever by a national legislator explicitly calling for green collar jobs as a way to uplift the poor. (Hooray!)

Statement from Hilda Solis: “Green Jobs Will Create Pathways Out of Poverty”

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (CA-32), a Member of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, delivered the following statement during a Select Committee hearing about the opportunities green jobs will provide underserved communities.

"Chairman Markey, thank you for holding this hearing today. The strength of our nation’s economy depends not only on innovation and technology, but also on the availability of high skilled and well-trained work force.

"Yet as Silicon Valley advances, so should East Los Angeles. We must ensure both that workers are skilled on this new technology AND that this technology presents a pathway out of poverty for our nation’s unskilled work force and underserved communities.

"I am proud that several of our communities have begun to prepare for this shift. For example, Rio Hondo College, which services students in my district, has partnered with American Honda Motor Co., John Deere and the Robert Bosch Corporation to establish an alternative fuels vocational technology training program.

"The City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, the Community Development Department, and the Department of Water and Power studied which areas of the economy could provide opportunities for high quality jobs. They found the solar, wind and biomass sectors are great opportunities for employment. I am pleased that our witnesses today can attest to the impacts these programs have on workers and the role of the federal government.

"More than 13 million workers this year (one in 10 workers nationally) will seek assistance from an employee training program. This training can lead to self-sufficiency and prosperity through higher wages, access to benefits and more career choices. Programs which link green job training to underserved communities in both rural and urban communities present a golden opportunity to advance not only the energy security of our nation, but also the economic security of our families.

"I am proud to be working to develop a green jobs anti-poverty investment act along with my good friends Mr. Tierney, Mr. Miller, and Mr. McNerney. Through this effort we can support both our nation’s innovation and technological leadership and drive our nation to lift people out of poverty." For more information about Congresswoman Solis’s work, please visit www.house.gov/solis or view clips of Congresswoman Solis at work at www.youtube.com/rephildasolis.

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