Photo via the official website of Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis
Most of the press about Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), has centered on the four-term Congresswoman's pro-union reputation, with folks like Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, calling her "as strong a voice for justice for SEIU workers … as we've ever had." But this longtime labor advocate is just as passionate a supporter of environmental causes.In a statement about Solis's nomination, which was announced late last week, Sierra Club president Carl Pope characterized her as "a tireless advocate for environmental issues, environmental justice, worker's rights, and green jobs … [who] understands that green jobs must also be good jobs and has worked to make sure that the clean energy economy is one that lifts up all workers." The Sierra Club also noted her 2008 League of Conservation Voters score of 85 and lifetime score of 97.
When I interviewed Solis a few years ago for the Sierra Club's magazine, Sierra, she talked about the air pollution and toxic-waste problems that have plagued her neighborhood for decades; the myth that minorities don't care about the environment; the efforts of her immigrant father--a union shop steward in Mexico--to get safety equipment for his coworkers; and her own push to create parkland in her largely Hispanic and Asian working-class Southern California district.
Environmental justice for all
Elected to the California State Senate in 1994, Solis helped pass the nation’s first environmental-justice bill in 1999. (Since then, at least 20 states have enacted similar laws.) I asked her what obstacles she faced in this effort, and she replied:
"When I was trying to get my bill through the state senate, there were a lot of people in denial, saying, oh, this doesn’t affect me or my district. But environmental justice means everybody—equal treatment, equal protection. Why should Beverly Hills be able to restrict egregious projects, while projects that disrupt the ecosystem and our communities are coming into low-income areas? There has to be a level playing field, so people can have clean air, clean water, the ability to have a clean life, wherever they live. How could people not support that?"
Passage of the bill also earned Solis a Profiles in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. The first woman to be so honored, Solis donated her $25,000 award to local environmental groups.
In the House
Solis was elected the following year to Congress, where she is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the House Committee on Natural Resources, and the new House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. She was the original author and a tireless supporter of the Green Jobs Act, a section of the 2007 Energy Bill that, Treehugger reported at the time, "commited the federal government to funding job training for 35,000 people a year to work in environmentally-friendly fields" such as constructing green buildings and installing solar panels. (Funding, unfortunately, has not materialized.) She also cosponsored a bill to expand and encourage the use of public transportation and help local governments create walkable and bike-able communities.
Van's a fan
Progressive bloggers are buzzing about her nomination, with The American Prospect gushing that she would bring "passionate commitment to working people, a high level of political smarts, and some genuine displays of raw guts that could make her a star of American liberalism" and Jonathan Stein, writing for Mother Jones, calling her "a nominee to get excited about."
Count environmental-justice advocate Van Jones among those already excited. He heralds Solis, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Nicaragua, as "brown and green," saying that President-elect Obama "got it right" with this pick, which "makes clear his commitment to creating green jobs to lift the nation out of its current economic crisis."
More about Obama's cabinet appointments:
Obama Choices for Energy & Environment Positions Widely Hailed: What Do Readers Think?
Obama Picks For Science Advisor, NOAA Head Strong on Climate Change
Obama National Security Advisor Outlines Energy Policy Priorities (Video Clip)