Where Are the Green Jobs?

President Obama has been talking about green jobs for years, but most of the country is still waiting to see them. Here's why, according to his former green-jobs adviser and other advocates.

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Proclaiming it "Innovation Week" at the White House, President Obama has ramped up his clean-energy agenda recently. From the Monday launch of a program designed to spark entrepreneurship in high-growth industries, to Thursday's tour of labs at Penn State where researchers are developing more energy-efficient buildings, the president keeps talking the good talk on investing in new technologies to create jobs.

It's a familiar theme by now for Obama, who's been pitching energy innovation since the 2008 campaign trail. His landmark Recovery Act put billions of dollars toward green solutions. He has, time and time again, called on Congress to pass clean-energy legislation. One of his earliest appointees was a special adviser for green jobs to help create new career paths in weatherization construction and renewable power sources -- jobs that would allow low-income, trained workers to advance to the top of their trades.

Two years later, though, there hasn't exactly been a nationwide influx of wind turbines, retrofitted buildings and smart grids. So where are all those green jobs?

"This is the time to ask questions," said environmental advocate Van Jones in an interview with The Root. Jones, who was the aforementioned White House green-jobs adviser for six months, maintains that, as the world continues to expand its energy portfolio, millions of green jobs are inevitable.

The question lies in whether the U.S. government will get on board to invest in it. "We never said that all these jobs would be here in America without Congress acting," Jones said. "Those of us who have been beating this drum for 10 years now have always said that Congress has to act."

A Good Start, but ...

The president's green-jobs strategy actually got off to a promising start in 2009, when he funneled $80 billion from the Recovery Act into emerging technologies, including solar and wind energy, biofuels and energy efficiency. Out of that amount, $500 million was appropriated for targeted green-job-training programs in low-income communities. According to Jones, Obama's team expected this money to be just a down payment, in anticipation of a bill that would have the private sector throw in up to 10 times as many dollars.

The House of Representatives passed such legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (pdf), in June 2009. The bill died in the Senate. "Had the Senate followed up, we would have a huge job boom going on right now in renewable technologies," said Jones.

Instead the initial money went toward grant support for thousands of renewable-energy companies throughout the country, just to keep the sector from disappearing in the economic crisis. Grants were also awarded to community organizations, from Greensboro, N.C., to Phoenix, to train folks in building weatherization and retrofitting -- so that they'd be ready when the jobs came.

"The bad news is, some of these companies are starting to close their doors and go overseas because they don't feel there's going to be a supportive-enough policy environment here in America," said Jones, citing China as an example of where jobs are going. "We're in great danger of losing some of the gains that we have achieved, against gravity, over the past two years."

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