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It’s Not Easy Being Green: Has President Obama Given up on Green Jobs Creation?

J. Mijin Cha

Since the beginning of his candidacy, President Obama has made creating green jobs and growing a green economy one of his priorities. Prior speeches have continually emphasized the need for green jobs and their economic potential.  Senator Reid, echoing many green jobs advocates, predicted that green jobs would be a substantial part of last night's jobs speech.  Yet, the term never once crossed the President's lips. 

So, what happened? How did we come from strong support for significant green jobs programs from the Administration, including green jobs playing a prominent role in the stimulus plan, to complete silence? Combined with the recent ozone decision, does the failure to mention green jobs, mean that President Obama has turned his back on the environment and a clean energy future?

A closer look at the American Jobs Act shows that while President Obama may not have called them green jobs, a significant portion of the jobs that he proposes to create are, in fact, green jobs. Among his proposals, he calls for modernizing and rehabilitating schools, including implementing energy efficiency improvements, immediate investments in upgrading and rehabilitating infrastructure, creating a National Infrastructure Bank, funding high speed rail, and rehabilitating homes, businesses and communities. Even the highway investments focus on making the highway system more efficient, which would ideally reduce vehicle miles travelled and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While there are no new programs for clean energy development or large-scale energy efficiency projects, a significant portion of the jobs created through the American Jobs Act will make our natural and built environments more sustainable. So, why not call them “green” jobs? One reason may be the criticism aimed at the president for the misconception that green jobs haven’t been created. Yet, that myth is often perpetuated by false statements and a willful ignorance of studies that definitively show that green jobs are being created. A recent Brookings Institution report shows that 2.7 million people are employed in greens jobs, the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession, and green jobs provide better quality paying jobs, with mean wages 13 percent higher than median U.S. wages.

Green jobs are more than just jobs focusing on clean energy development or energy efficiency. A close look at the proposals in the American Jobs Act shows that President Obama hasn’t turned his back on creating a clean economy future, he’s just not using the phrase that triggers conservatives. In fact, perhaps we should all stop calling them “green” jobs and call them what they really are: jobs.