As President Obama departs for Copenhagen, the public debate over climate change appears to hinge as much on green jobs as on greenhouse gases. Far away from the negotiations, and the partisan divisions surrounding them, American states have been hard at work implementing an unprecedented series of investments in energy efficiency and environmental improvements made possible through the Recovery Act. The story of states' progress in creating green jobs offers both notes of caution and encouraging signals for the new green economy.
While there is no national consensus among state governments about climate change policy, there is wide agreement that clean energy and new environmental technologies offer huge opportunities for economic development. Long before the stimulus, many states invested their own scarce resources in clean energy technology grant programs, tax incentives, and other measures to spur job growth in the green economy. The Recovery Act has put these efforts on steroids with billions of dollars in new federal funding.
However, in the first six months following passage of the Recovery Act just over 13,000 green jobs were created or saved, hardly a silver bullet solution to a 10% unemployment rate. While Ohio leads the nation with over 2,500 jobs, some smaller states have also posted impressive figures. Idaho has created over 800 green jobs to date, a figure that represents nearly 40% of the state's total jobs created with Recovery Act funds. Only Rhode Island had reported no green jobs created or saved by the October 10 reporting deadline for the Recovery Act.
While results to date have been modest, a wave of clean energy projects will soon be coming online in states like Oregon and Maine through the production energy tax credit program of the Department of Energy. These projects, along with steady growth in state spending on weatherization, drinking water improvements, and other stimulus-funded projects will likely yield a much larger total of green jobs in the next quarter.
If green jobs are going to play the role in America's economic recovery that many hope, there will need to be a concerted effort both at the state and federal levels to connect and catalyze the many disparate elements that feed into the emerging green economy. Short-term training dollars made available by the Department of Labor need to connect with long-term curriculum shifts in community colleges and universities. Similarly, short-term jobs weatherizing homes need to give way to long-term employment in competitive companies poised to provide clean energy technologies to markets both at home and abroad.
States are up to the challenge, but they will need to have a federal partner that is as concerned about building synergy among stimulus-funded programs as it is about counting dollars and jobs.
For more information visit www.staterecovery.org