Green jobs, compliments of the feds | Bleader

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Green jobs, compliments of the feds

Posted By on 07.30.09 at 07:04 PM

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The “green” economy really is growing, even if it often appears to be happening a few dozen, federally funded jobs at a time.

U.S. EPA chief Lisa Jackson swung through town today to announce that the feds are sending about half a million dollars here to train people for work cleaning up some of the waste and wreckage of the industrial age.

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The grant will go to the nonprofit organization OAI, which will prepare 80 people to work in areas like brownfield remediation and building retrofits to improve energy efficiency. OAI also received $200,000 from the EPA earlier this year to train 60 unemployed people, and in the coming days the EPA will announce other grants around the country.

“We’ve learned that environmental challenges in our neighborhoods create entry barriers for businesses and jobs,” Jackson said. “Poison in the ground means poison in our economy. A weak environment means a weak consumer base. Unhealthy air means an unhealthy atmosphere for investors.”

The grant will target Chicago’s once heavily industrialized Ninth and 24th wards as well as several south suburbs that have never recovered from plant closings and the job losses that followed. Jackson highlighted the potential by describing a polluted river in her home state of New Jersey where the surrounding neighborhoods are struggling because no one wants to invest there. In contrast, a once-industrialized area along the shore of the Hudson River has become known as the “Gold Coast” because it’s done so well after being cleaned up and redeveloped.

“Not only will the cleanup process put people back to work, but once the cleanup process is complete the sites themselves can be put back to work,” she said.

There’s no shortage of opportunities to do this around Chicago. The city alone has more than a thousand brownfield sites; studies have found that the average brownfield costs about half a million dollars to clean up but then yields far more in economic benefits.

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And 70 percent of Chicago’s greenhouse gas emissions come from heating and cooling buildings, so a large-scale weatherization program could have a huge environmental impact while cutting everyone’s energy bills.

But the growth of environmentally friendly business isn't happening terribly fast, leaving government with a huge burden of creating both the supply and demand for “green” jobs.

I asked Jackson and Chicago environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna if companies were actively looking for laborers with the skill sets developed through this grant. Malec-McKenna said they should be, since from an environmental standpoint there’s so much that needs to be done. “We think there is a tremendous opportunity, not only for existing work, but we think there is a market that’s going to explode over the next several years as a result of the federal government’s focus on environmental activities as well as the reality about climate change in the corporate world.”

Jackson added that the Obama administration has committed to putting billions more toward weatherizing homes and cleaning up brownfields and Superfund sites. “That means there’ll be a constant need for workers,” she said, “and it’s our job in government to make sure we connect these qualified folks when they come out of this program with permanent jobs.”

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