Federal Funding for "Green Pathways Out of Poverty"

Though stripped of much of its content by the time it passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Bush last month, the 2007 Energy Bill did contain one surprise piece of legislation that just might have a huge impact on the growth of the "green-collar" sector in America. The Green Jobs Act, passed as part of the Energy Bill, commits the federal government to funding job training for 35,000 people a year to work in environmentally-friendly fields.

The Act allocates $125 million yearly for green job training programs all over the USA. Of that:

$25 million will be allocated to create "green pathways out of poverty," i.e. job training for low-income people in fields like solar power installation and green roofing.

$80 million for "just transitions" - green job re-training, for example teaching construction workers competency in green construction techniques.

$20 million for renewal energy and energy efficiency research.The rationale behind the Green Jobs Act is to break down the false dichotomy of economy vs. environment that dominates the public debate by showing that it is possible to achieve economic growth thorough protecting the environment. At the same time, the aim is to break the perception that the environment is an elitist concern by allowing the weakest members of society to be on the front lines of the environmental movement while gaining a foothold in a growing industry. The law is the first to link social justice with environmentalism in this way on the national level.

Says Dan Seligman, Washington Director of the Apollo Alliance:

The Green Jobs Act is a crucial building block of the clean energy future. The Act creates a pilot program to train workers in the new skills required for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and will help to alleviate the skills shortage that impairs growth of the clean energy sector. By requiring business and labor to work together in developing training programs, it ensures the high-quality training needed for high-wage jobs in this new growth sector. The Act also specifically funds training for low-income workers, providing a pathway out of poverty into emerging "green collar" jobs, helping to ensure that everyone has a chance to help our country build the new energy future.

The Act was promoted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a handful of California legislators, including Hilda Solis, John Tierney, Barbara Lee and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It is based on Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a $250,000 project funded by the city of Oakland (the city got the money from a settlement reached with several energy companies, who were sued after the 2001 California energy crisis) to train disadvantaged residents to work in local green industries.

According to Nwamaka Agbo of the Ella Baker Center:

Having the money and legislation available to make this happen is a huge step in addressing the climate change issue in addition to a number of other issues that affect our communities. Green-collar jobs create an opportunity for people to establish a family and a career while taking care of the environment.

For an idea of how these mechanisms could work in practice, check out Sustainable South Bronx's BEST program, a free 10-week training program, open to all New York City residents, or watch Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, talk about her mission to "green the ghetto."

Seligman admits that "at $125 million, the Green Jobs Act is only a pilot program and is not large enough to meet all the skills needed in the emerging green economy." The folks at the Ella Baker Center agree, and are already thinking about building on the momentum created by the Green Jobs Act to secure $1 billion a year in order to train 250,000 new green-collar workers annually. Launched last September at the Clinton Global Initiative, the Center's Green For All project is working hard to take the logic of solving the climate crisis and the poverty crisis with smart policy choices to the next level.