Planet Gore

Tightening the Green Collar

Environmental Capital runs through last night’s convention rhetoric on energy & the environment, including the Dems’ promise to create 5 million “green collar” jobs, ex nihilo. Because liberal Democrats are world-famous for their long history of creating productive, private-sector jobs.

Hillary Clinton, who championed “green jobs” legislation in the Senate and hammered the theme on the campaign trail, urged support for Sen. Barack Obama precisely for that reason: “He’ll transform our energy agenda by creating millions of green jobs and building a new, clean energy future.”

Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius, a big-time opponent of coal power and a one-time darkhorse for the VP slot, matched T. Boone Pickens’ enthusiasm for turning the American midwest into a clean-energy paradise:

We know that the fuel for our future can be found in the grasses and crops that grow, year after year, on our fertile prairies. The energy for tomorrow is there in the clean, renewable power of the steady winds that blow across our fields. Investing in American energy will create 5 million green jobs—jobs that will revitalize many of our rural communities. Jobs that can never be outsourced to a foreign supplier.

Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who’s already turned his state into a magnet for renewable-energy investment from overseas, showed a laser focus on clean energy and green jobs:

[Obama] will invest $150 billion over the next decade to grow our energy supply and put 5 million Americans to work building solar and wind farms, clean coal gasification and geothermal plants, the kind of jobs that can’t be outsourced to India or China […] One person who understands what this can mean is a Pennsylvanian named Troy Galloway. Troy is a 44-year-old steelworker who was laid off after working for 15 years for the same company. But today, Troy is working in Pennsylvania for one of the largest wind energy companies in the world, and he’s earning as much as he earned at the steel mill. Troy’s new employer has more than 1,000 Pennsylvanians working green-collar jobs that pay well and have a future.

Gov. Rendell is presumably talking about Gamesa, the big Spanish wind-turbine maker that recently opened several Pennsylvania factories. But his anecdote reveals a couple of problems with the idea that “green jobs” will be a panacea. Pennsylvania, as he noted, has been a green-jobs pioneer, and yet the wind-turbine plant only employs 1,000 people. Reaching the 5 million mark will require an awful lot of factories nationwide in a lot of different sectors.

And at least some of those jobs aren’t new — they just replace lost jobs at the steel mills and the like. That’s why fussy economists always ask about new “net” job creation from the green-collar stampede. Replacing rust-belt jobs with green-collar jobs doesn’t alter the overall employment picture — it just shifts employment around.

Still, now that the sputtering economy is forefront on voters’ minds, any plan that can preserve, if not necessarily create, jobs seems likely to win votes in November.



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