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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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.”

What’s the Holdup?

There are reasonable concerns about leaping into innovative technologies — or seizing our “Sputnik moment,” as Obama put it in his State of the Union address last week. One worry is that, on the front end, renewable sources will lead to higher energy costs for consumers. Yet when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office crunched the numbers, as it did with 2009’s failed energy bill, the cost impact was not overly burdensome, costing the average U.S. household $175 a year, or 48 cents a day.

Jones says that most of the resistance in Congress is due to the oil industry’s fear of competition and disturbing the status quo. “Then there is this bizarre, ideological allergy to wind and solar energy on the part of conservatives,” he continued. “They just see it as ‘hippie energy,’ and they don’t like it.” In reality, these industries would benefit hippies and cowboys alike, since the necessary solar and wind farms would be supported in rural red states.

A more compelling argument for innovation investments may be that it’s what the majority of Americans support. In a new USA Today-Gallup poll that asked citizens what they want from Congress this year, the most favorable action, picked by 83 percent of respondents, was an energy bill that provides incentives for using alternative energy sources.

Where It’s Working

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, an advocacy group focused on lifting minority communities out of poverty through the green economy, is frank in her assessment of Capitol Hill naysayers. “Here’s the reality: We’re in the middle of a recession,” she told The Root. “The economy hasn’t grown in many sectors. The only sector that’s growing significantly, in a way that provides family-sustaining wages, is the green economy. If someone has a better idea, I want to understand that. But right now this is the only industry where we’re seeing people beginning to go to work.”