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Earth Talk: Federal emphasis on green projects could create many new jobs

July 23, 2009

Dear EarthTalk: What kind of job opportunities might be opened up by the new federal emphasis on green projects?

—Dick Wetzler, St. Paul, Minn.

If it’s a U.S. industry that has the potential to be cleaner and greener, chances are the Barack Obama (D) administration has already set aside some stimulus money for it. In February 2009, the new president signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. Besides creating jobs, the bill promises to spur American companies to greener heights through investments totaling more than $75 billion.

According to Environment America, a federation of state-based environmental advocacy groups, the stimulus package includes $32.8 billion for clean energy projects, $26.86 billion for energy efficiency initiatives and $18.95 billion for green transportation. Some of the key green features of the bill include accelerating the deployment of “smart grid” technology (systems of routing power in ways that optimize energy efficiency), providing energy efficiency funds for schools, offering support for governors and mayors to beef up energy efficiency in private homes and public buildings, and establishing a new loan guarantee program to help renewable energy producers survive in down economic times.

With the private capital and credit so tight as a result of the recession, this influx of federal support is vital to help the still-fledgling green energy and transportation sectors stay afloat. And most economists agree it makes good sense to steer away from finite foreign oil toward homegrown renewable energy. Obama has promised the creation of some 500,000 jobs in the nation’s burgeoning clean energy sector alone.

“The central facts here are irrefutable: Spending the same amount of money on building a clean energy economy will create three times more jobs within the U.S. than would spending on our existing fossil fuel infrastructure,” writes University of Massachusetts economist Robert Pollin in The Nation. “The transformation to a clean energy economy can, therefore, serve as a major long-term engine of job creation.”

Wind turbine engineers, insulation installers, recycling sorters and photovoltaic cell salespeople—along with the businesspeople behind them—can all look forward to bright and potentially lucrative futures.

This view is shared by the Solar Energy Industries Association, which predicts the stimulus will help create some 119,000 jobs in the American solar sector alone before the end of 2010. Employers from solar cell manufacturers to green building materials retailers to wind farm maintenance firms to recycling haulers to energy auditors will likewise be looking to swell their ranks of employees with relevant skills.

The federal government itself is also in on the recovery effort beyond doling out the money. According to the official Recovery Act Web site, the General Services Administration’s Public Building Service will invest $5.55 billion in federal building projects, “including $4.5 billion to transform federal facilities into exemplary high-performance green buildings, $750 million to renovate and construct new federal offices and courthouses, and $300 million to construct and renovate border stations.”

About $1 billion worth of projects will be undertaken—a boon for everyone in the building industry, including construction workers, electricians, plumbers, air conditioning mechanics, carpenters, architects and engineers.

CONTACTS: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, www.recovery.gov; Environment America, www.environmentamerica.org; Solar Energy Industries Association, www.seia.org.

SEND ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php. Details and ordering information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

from the July 22-28, 2009, issue

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