Green Jobs: Still Here, Still Green

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 28 2011 10:12 AM

Green Jobs: Still Here, Still Green

ASPEN, Col. -- I went back through a time warp this morning. After grabbing some fruit and yogurt and coffee, I sat in on a section titled "Green Tech to Clean Tech: Fixing the Economy to Fixing the Planet," all about green jobs.

You remember green jobs, don't you? The stimulus bill included $5 billion of funds intended to grow green industries and employ hard-luck construction and tech workers. The prime mover in the "green jobs" movement is Green for All, whose president Van Jones was tapped as the "Green Jobs Czar" for the administration. Jones was hounded out of his job, done in by a 9/11 "truth" petition that had his name on it (he denies he signed it), but the bigger problem for green jobs was that they didn't seem to exist .

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Meanwhile, Green for All has kept chugging. Its new president, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, spread the gospel to a room of captivated festival-goers. Midway through her talk, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson walked in the room and took a seat.

"Get to know her!" said Ellis-Lamkins. "She's the most fierce member of the cabinet. She's on Capitol Hill more often than some members of Congress."

In Ellis-Lamkins's telling, the case for green jobs was as obvious as ever. The stimulus had "created a million jobs in two years." States were buying in to these ideas; even Mississippi was buying in.

"You need folks who have a debate about whether global warming is real," she said, "but they won't deny that they need jobs in their state."

By contrast, Washington is "the most depressing place in this country... we're giving $5 billion in incentives oil companies, and we're cutting incentives for wind and solar at the same time." This was the problem. Green jobs could go; the United States could build solar panels instead of leaving them up to China. China's advantage was that it had consistent policy and incentives, while America doesn't.

"The United States has not done a good job of incentives and regulation," she said. "The idea that it's communist to help small businesses is... amazing to me."

Ah, yes: The red-baiting.

"There's been an organized attack on green jobs," she said. "It's been from the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, some anchors on Fox News, Americans for Prosperity. It's not like it's some secret conspiracy we can't talk about. Most of the groups that fund the work against us right now are funded by oil companies. There's not one study yet to date that hasn't been funded by oil companies."

The audience did not disagree. Questions were of the "how-do-we-convince-everyone-else?" variety -- the green jobs case was just obvious. What the environmental movement needed was good stories of good jobs, to push back against the endless accusations that they were peddling a sham. They knew they weren't. What was the problem?

"Green jobs are absolutely under attack," said Ellis-Lamkins. You don't realize how under attack they are until you've appeared on Glenn Beck a few times."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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