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Public Foes, Private Allies on Green Jobs

J. Mijin Cha

The latest attack on green jobs attempts to portray the U.S. Department of Labor’s green jobs training program as a failure and claims that President Obama failed on his promise to create 5 million green jobs by the end of the decade. These attacks are easily debunked, particularly given the reality that it is difficult to place trained graduates in employment when over 14 million people are currently unemployed and we remain near the start of the decade Obama spoke about. We still have seven or so years to go and given that clean energy investments create three times the number of jobs that fossil fuel investments do, overall job creation is only limited by how much we invest.

Over the past few months, the right has released a steady stream of attacks on green jobs. The downfall of the renewable energy sector has been predicted for several years now. Yet, this year, the renewable energy sector produced more energy than nuclear power -- 18 percent more. Renewable energy production in the first half of 2011 grew 15 percent from the same period in 2010. And, this is all during a time of overall economic stagnation.

So, why do conservatives hate green jobs and clean energy? One of the most common criticisms is that there is no definition of a “green job.” In fact, it’s not that complicated. Green jobs make our natural or built environments more sustainable (hence the “green”) and they are, well, jobs. They can range from public transit maintenance, which makes our built environment more sustainable by repairing and upgrading existing infrastructure and helps reduce our overall carbon footprint, to renewable energy producers to weatherization specialists who make our buildings more efficient so we consume less energy.

Green jobs have existed for a very long time. Charles F. Brush designed and built the first wind-powered electric generator in 1887. The official Weatherization Assistance Program began in 1976, but people were weatherizing their homes long before that. And, traditional sectors are transforming to green. A recent study shows that green jobs comprise a third of the construction industry workforce with that number expected to rise to 45 percent by 2014.

Many conservatives realize this and act accordingly. We’ve already highlighted the clean economic growth in red states, which has been further enforced by Mississippi calling a special legislative session to give incentives to green jobs. Though they attacked the Department of Energy’s guaranteed loan program, several conservative lawmakers -- including the most vocal opponents -- lobbied for clean energy projects in their districts under the same programs that they denounced.

And, Presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry has overseen the installation of 10,000 MW of wind energy. Perry increased the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewables and expanded the state’s transmission grid to maximize the ability to move wind energy through Competitive Renewable Energy Zones. In fact, Governor Perry was so dedicated to these initiatives that he called a special session to consider them since they did not pass during a regular legislative session.

It seems, then, that the conservative attack on green jobs and a clean economy is pure politicking. By advancing the narrative that green jobs have failed, conservatives can crow about government waste and protect their traditional base of fossil fuel industries. However, actions speak louder than words and the evidence clearly shows conservatives embrace the clean economy when no one is looking. Given the economic growth and job creation of the clean economy, they would be foolish not to.