Obama's Economic Stimulus Plan: Cleaning Up Washington, or Greenwashing?

Last weekend, President-elect Obama announced his plans for the economic stimulus plan. He says it's going to be big, green, and expansive. But is it truly green, or just greenwash?

Economics and Green
Obama announced his economic stimulus plan Saturday, Nov 22, 2008 during his weekly Democratic Radio Address. The announcement is the first of many steps he plans to take to turn around the United States' failing financial system. The building blocks for the plan are to create tax relief to the middle-class, create green jobs, rebuild elementary & secondary schools and invest in renewable energies such as wind farms and solar panels. The Sunday Morning Quarterbacks
The Sunday morning political shows were aflame with commentary about the plan and several interested points were made on This Week, Meet the Press and The McLaughlin Group — not to mention, that the announcement comes with a large number of undefined variables as well as a bigger question of whether or not the plan is as green as it first appears.
Barrack Obama says in the radio address that 2.5 million jobs will be created with investments into green jobs, the energy sector and construction by January 2011. Yet as Erin Burnett points out 2.5 million jobs over two years would still be a net loss because 2.7million people are presently unemployed nationwide. She also pointed out that Wall Street is lukewarm about a massive infrastructure program coming out of Washington. Though Wall Street and investment banks have been getting hit hard by public criticism over the last few months, most wind farm projects and solar panel companies will look for private investment to generate an upswing of output — and if investors aren't willing to invest, the equity side of renewable energy deals could find itself in a complete standstill.

Infrastructure and Economic Stimulus
It was striking to me to hear Obama talk about infrastructure projects as a source of job growth over the next 24 months. I worked as a project architect on highway and bridge projects for more than five years, and I would be cautious about claiming to be able to get infrastructure projects up and running in 24 months. Though Robert Kuttner says infrastructure projects could be going within 6 months, even small projects take 12 to 18 months to go from the RFP process into Design Development. Moreover, I wonder how green these projects are going to actually be. Rushing a project into construction is a bad indication of implementing strict environmental regulations as well as green building standards. Infrastructure, especially highways and bridges, tend to have huge environmental impacts typically not included in the debate about green cars and governmental infrastructure programs. For example, car collisions are one of leading causes wildlife fatalities. Endangered species such as the Florida Panther are nearing extinction because of the numbers of big cats hit by automobiles each year. I wonder if the planners and strategists around Obama are going to put into the stimulus package requirements for the implementation of sustainable highway practices and mandate bridges to not disturb wildlife connectivity during or after construction. Of course, with all the potential harm the stimulus could cause — the plan has the opportunity to coordinate with the national park service and bureau of land management to decrease the number of roads within or near wilderness preserves, and affectively support rewilding and conservation biology goals.

Campaign v/s Administration
One of the biggest issues facing the economic stimulus plan is its size. During the campaign, Obama quoted numbers in the $175 billion range, reassuring voters that he can pay for every dime of spending proposals while cutting taxes (for all but the most affluent). Factcheck.org stated that "budget experts say that's unlikely." For all the hope of a green economy, what happens if the green movement gets labeled a "tax and spend" initiative without real results? For more than a decade, green leaders have made the case that environmental solutions can be based on new economy values to encourage the business community and mainstream America to buy into a green vision. There are signals that the Obama Administration will be much more business-friendly than some think. Signs of this come from the New York Times report on Nov 22, 2008 that Obama may not repeal Bush tax cuts for wealthiest Americans, but let them expire in 2011 as originally scheduled to give himself time to let the stimulus plan work.

Tags: Construction | Corporate Responsibility | Economics | Energy | Finances | Green Jobs | Greenwashing | Jobs | Renewable Energy | Transportation

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