(Renewable) Power to (all) the People

This week, the US House of Representatives started down the road towards global warming legislation with a series of hearings to discuss the climate and energy proposal unveiled last month. So while the powerful make decisions on how to power our country, we the people must sit back and hope that this handful of subcommittee members make the right decision and base it in fact, not fear or pressure.

We know the consequences of inaction: Study after study tells us we need swift action on climate or risk passing the point of no return.  We have incentives: action on energy and climate will boost our economy through job creation. In fact, on Earth Day, NRDC President, Frances Beinecke testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee on the importance of passing climate legislation stating that "[i]f (ACES) were enacted tomorrow millions of clean energy jobs would be created, starting right away." Action on climate will create new jobs in a clean energy economy, while inaction can lead to dangerous consequences, a fact the EPA officially recognized last Friday in its finding that carbon pollution is harmful to our health and to the climate (read more on EPA's decision here). The message seems clear: let's move past the fossils and give power - renewable that is - to the people.

Clean Energy Creates More Jobs

As my colleagues have repeatedly pointed out in previous blogs: dollar for dollar, investing in clean energy, like weatherizing homes and businesses and producing energy from renewable sources like wind and solar, creates more jobs than investing in traditional energy sources like oil and gas. In fact, investing in clean energy would create four times as many jobs as would result from spending the same amount of money within the oil industry. (NRDC Exec Dir. Peter Lehner has more on this.)

Because solving global warming means new investments in jobs and infrastructure, it also means the reconstruction of our economy.  Hundreds of thousands of workers in the United States already possess the vast majority of skills or are already in occupations that will be key in reducing global warming and making the shift to a clean energy economy. 

And because almost anyone can have a green job: the construction worker who retrofits buildings and houses to make them more energy efficient; the steelworker who builds wind turbines; the electrician who installs solar panels, the accountant who works for the company, the promise is really there for all.

The Importance of Creating Opportunity

Funding comprehensive training programs for Green Jobs will have to be a key element of any climate legislation in order to ensure we have the workforce to fill these jobs. This means preparing everyone at every skill level.  One particular area of concern for me has been preparing workers with low English proficiency. These are people who speak English at a level which allows them to function day to day but who would face serious challenges receiving training in an English-only environment.

Many green jobs will be created through investments in retrofitting buildings, expanding mass transit and rail, constructing smart energy grids, and expanding production of renewable energy such as wind power, solar power, and advanced bio-fuels, sectors that will likely employ numerous blue collar and construction workers, and that today already employ large numbers of Latinos. In fact, in the U.S. approximately one in every three construction workers is Hispanic. 

Even during more prosperous times, access to the job market for Limited English Proficient (LEP) persons is limited not only due to language barriers, but also due to a lack of opportunity to access job training. The National Council of la Raza estimates that each year, fewer than 10,000 LEP persons are served annually by federally funded job training programs resulting in limited options for Latinos and other LEP workers. A scenario that could easily become duplicated in the case of green jobs if concerted action is not taken to prevent it. 

We can begin to ensure equal access by putting the following policies into our climate legislation:

  • Developing a mechanism to ensure bilingual training in communities with over a certain percentage of LEP persons. 
  • Providing funding for job training initiatives that are adequately equipped and programmatically flexible to connect LEP workers to training resources in their language.  
  • Supplying funding for programs that train workers to improve their job skills while learning skills required to compete in the green jobs arena.
  • Ensuring that training programs employ a culturally resonant approach with adequate sensitivity towards those less-educated individuals.  

We look forward to working with representatives that now hold so much power and opportunity in their hands to craft green job training programs that will not only help to solve unemployment in the short term, but also ensure a strong and diverse workforce and much needed solutions to global warming.