Stimulating the Economy, One Green Job at a Time

The Current, Women's Council of Energy and the Environment

March 20, 2009

By Tracy Nagelbush

After only 28 days in office, President Barack Obama signed into law the single largest spending bill ever passed by the federal government: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The $787 billion price tag was hailed as a triumph (or a failure, depending on who you ask) for the Green Jobs movement, which is a central benefactor of ARRA spending. “Green Jobs” did not originate with Obama. The Green Jobs movement began beyond the Beltway. It has had an effect on Main Street and has built coalitions among unlikely allies. It appears to have a definite future in American political life.

Rise of the Green Jobs Movement

The Green Jobs movement began in the early years of the Bush administration, when groups such as the Apollo Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance brought unlikely constituencies together.. The Apollo and Blue Green Alliance are two separate coalitions, consisting of labor, business, environmental, and community leaders. Their efforts created a new phenomenon - United Steelworkers leaders and members of the Sierra Club were testifying together on Capitol Hill about how to create and keep jobs in the U.S.

It was not until late 2007 that policy makers gave Green Jobs their first big push with the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). The EISA marks the first time an energy bill moving in the U.S. Congress included a separate title dedicated to the creation of green workforce training programs. Earlier that year, then Congresswoman Hilda Solis (recently confirmed as Secretary of Labor), along with Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney introduced the Green Jobs Act, which became Title X of the EISA. The Green Jobs title authorized up to $125 million in funding to establish national and state job training programs administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that would train workers to enter “green industries”: energy efficient building and construction, renewable electric power, energy efficient vehicles, and biofuels development.

Another big influence in the Green Jobs Movement was the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  The mayors’ group led the effort to create the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants Program. The program, which found its way into Title V of the EISA, authorized $2 billion a year through 2012 to provide state and local governments with money to become more energy efficient and focus on energy conservation. The intention of Title V was to create “green jobs”.

The EISA authorized the programs, but they remained unfunded. Nevertheless, many states and local governments created certification programs in community colleges and encouraged public-private partnerships to develop a new “green-collar” workforce.

Carrying the Green Jobs Torch – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The new stimulus bill provides funding to the existing programs created in 2007, in addition to weaving the theme of “greening the workforce” throughout its other public policy provisions. In total, the ARRA authorizes both direct and indirect spending to promote Green Jobs. Whether this level of spending will measure up to Obama’s campaign promise of 5 million new Green Jobs remains to be seen.

Green Jobs Going Forward

The real evidence that the Green Jobs Movement is infiltrating the mainstream will be seen as federal agencies and non-energy related companies begin to institute policies that lead to a green workforce. Policy makers are betting that the U.S. will lead the way in transforming economies all over the world with “green jobs”.

Reprinted with permission by WCEE.