A Middle-Class Anthem: Good-Paying Green Jobs

Derek Pugh

“Tell me I’m your national anthem.” That was the theme of the hundreds of environmentalists and labor union members gathered today at the BlueGreen Alliance’s annual conference in Washington. They wanted to remind President Obama and Congress that the middle class is still the national anthem of this country.

In response,  Obama administration officials and congressional Democrats touted the president’s successes and current efforts to a skeptical audience.

They gathered at the conference with a shared vision for our country—combating climate change while creating well-paying jobs, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, advancing the rights and safety of workers, and securing our race to the top—that is shared by the majority of Americans.

At an opening panel focused on the rise and fall of climate change on the national agenda, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., acknowledged that the “propaganda campaign by the polluting industries” has been effective in derailing both the labor and environmental movements.

Although President Obama has placed climate change back on the national agenda, more needs to done. Executive action is crucial in our current political environment, but victories on the local and state level are just as important, if not more. Whitehouse told audience members “the only way to fight is to put light on it,” to advance the national dialogue. “Climate change needs to line up with issues such as gay rights and immigration,” he said.

Corporations and naysayers often claim we must choose between the environment and safety standards, between collective bargaining and job creation, while ignoring the facts. Currently, there are more than 3 million “green jobs.” Employment in this sector grew four times faster than other job categories. Since 2004, investment in clean energy is up 500 percent, and companies are bringing jobs back home from overseas.

This could not be possible without effective policies that promote green technologies and provide incentives for companies to relocate here, such as grants and tax credits. Research has shown that low-cost labor is not a major reason for companies taking jobs overseas. BMW manufactures its sports utility vehicles on our soil, not in Germany. We can compete.

“We have an opportunity before us,” declared David Danielson, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Energy, on the topic of American-made clean energy and manufacturing. He discussed the administration’s current green energy efforts, such as the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. In one recent success, in 2012 General Electric moved some operations from China and started manufacturing energy efficient water heaters that use 60 percent less water and save families on average $300 per year.

On the same topic, Leo Gerard, president of SWU, pointed out that “if we don’t have the manufacturing here, we won’t do the R&D here, and if we don’t do that here, we won’t be able to compete in a global economy.”

Our trade deficit is already costing us almost $1 billion a day and our current deficit with China is the largest in history.

This is not only an economic and environmental issue, but also a moral one. “I don’t want this generation, my generation, to be the one who destroys the planet” said Gerard. He envisions a future where his “grandkids and grandkids’ kids” are able to “grow up in an environment where they don’t worry about rising waters or finding good jobs.” This is an idea that we can all get behind.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood proudly stated that “America was built on big ideas and bold action. We have a duty to be good stewards of the environment.”

We have a clear path forward: Green jobs are good jobs that can end the pain and suffering caused by the recession, while setting America on a sustainable track.

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