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Con: Green jobs will rescue economy and help communities

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Kathy E. Read
March 7, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Does the president’s stimulus package rely too heavily on feel-good green jobs?

Critics who say that federally created “green jobs” waste taxpayers’ money and don’t benefit the economy obviously haven’t thoroughly analyzed the $5 billion plus weatherization project in President Obama’s stimulus package.


Helping low-income residents upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes will have every bit as big of a payoff for the nation’s slumping economy as the most shovel-ready highway and bridge construction projects.


And what’s more, they don’t require any wait for factories to gear up to supply thousands of new bulldozers and cement-mixers, hundreds of thousands of bags of concrete and cement, and millions of steel reinforcing rods.


In most cases, adequate supplies of plastic sheeting, caulking and duct tape already are available in the aisles of hardware stores in such winter-weary cities as Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit.


The recently passed stimulus bill—officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—contains some $5 billion in new funding for the U.S. Department of Energy’s weatherization assistance program.


The program has weatherized more than 6.2 million American homes since its inception in 1976. Last year alone, it created 21,000 jobs. Both those numbers will improve dramatically when the stimulus funds reach local communities.


The National Community Action Foundation estimates that weatherization is one of the most energy-efficient ways the country can reduce its addiction to imported oil—much of it from unstable and unfriendly nations such as Venezuela and Iran.


Every $1 invested in weatherizing homes in low-income neighborhoods quickly translates into $1.67 in energy savings, according to David Bradley, the executive director of NCAF, a Washington nonprofit that works with the Department of Energy to help local community groups install insulation and train weatherization workers.


Another nonprofit, Economic Opportunity Studies, estimates weatherization funds from the stimulus package will create about 133,000 jobs over the next few years. EOS says that home weatherizations using the newly available federal money will save American families more than $6.7 billion over the next two decades, Newly weatherized homes, on average, reduce heating bills by 32 percent and reduce overall energy by nearly 25 percent. The savings in 2008 averaged $413 a household.


Bradley notes that new funds flowing from the stimulus package will enlarge the foundation’s training program around the country—equipping urban residents with new skills and sustainable careers.


The “green jobs” surge is attracting large contributions from the private sector, as well. Bradley’s community action foundation recently received a $5 million check from energy giant Exxon Mobil to develop a state-of-the-art training program for inner-city residents that will enable them to get permanent jobs in the rapidly growing field of energy efficiency.


The new stimulus package, in fact, is chock-full of unique government, private business and nonprofit partnerships that could well play a major role in ending the recession.


The new NCAF program will train workers to retrofit both urban housing and commercial and industrial sites based on the best existing practices and using the latest technologies.


The new private-public partnership will fund anywhere from four to six large-scale projects that demonstrate high-impact approaches focused on adding value to the Energy Department’s existing weatherization program.


Vociferous critics of the Obama stimulus bill continually rant and rave about the waste in the $875 billion package. They should stop shouting long enough to actually read the provisions—especially those in the weatherization program. Perhaps they should even interview some of the many elderly low-income residents who no longer shiver through long, cold nights because their homes have been fully winterized by a caring government.


It’s almost enough to persuade a latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge to turn over a new leaf and commit to helping the growing ranks of the less fortunate.


Kathy E. Read is the former publisher of The Wilson Quarterly, the scholarly journal of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Readers may write her at 4836 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20814.

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