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Report on Compass 6

 

Notes on the Compass VI Conference on Green Jobs, Nashville, December 4-5, 2009

Gene TeSelle, Tennessee Alliance for Progress Secretary/Treasurer

There was an impressive list of sponsors (both organizations and individuals). There was also an impressive turnout. Perhaps the most valuable discovery for many participants is that there are knowledgeable people all over Tennessee, people who not only care about the environment and want to stimulate the economy through the development of green jobs, but have an impressive range of hands-on experience. And for many of them, at least, this was the first opportunity to learn about each other and begin networking.

In discussion it was noted that successful programs usually begin locally. Then they can become the models for other programs. When votes are needed for legislation, one of the strongest arguments is that a program has been successful in the legislator's home district. For these and other reasons, constant networking is crucial.

A number of workshops were held, drawing on the expertise of these Tennesseans. There was also a "youth track," designed not only to motivate youth but to give them a voice, with the aid of teaching artist Benjamin Smith, executive director of YouthSpeak Nashville. During lunch a number of them recited their "slams," critiques of the negative views of the environment and the poor that are often voiced in the media and the general public.

Plenary sessions featured three articulate organizers, two whose base of operations is the Bay Area in California: Julian McQueen of Green for All, Ruben Lizardo of PolicyLink, and Ron Ruggiero of the Apollo Alliance, who is based in Portland, Oregon. They gave an overview of federal policy, and especially of the "green jobs" aspects of the Recovery Act. Ruggiero noted that these will be central to the policies of the Obama administration for the next four and perhaps eight years; thus it will be important to understand them, get public agencies to take maximum advantage of the resources that will be available, and monitor the activities of those agencies. Many of the "old players" -- public agencies, elected officials, contractors -- will be involved, but they probably need to be "incentivized" to alter their practices. They will receive added points in the application process if they involve community-based organizations and include disadvantaged groups. But their performance will need to be monitored to see that it meets the requirements -- and their own promises.

An impressive program has already been mounted in Portland. Loans and grants for weatherization of homes are funded by a statewide revolving fund, of the sort we have yet to see in Tennessee (this role might be played by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency in cooperation with TVA). After weatherization of homes is completed and certified, utility bills are reduced, and repayment on the loan (amortized over 20 years, but usually paid back in 3 to 5 years) is included in the monthly utility bill. For low-income people it becomes a monthly grant, but the loan remains on the books until the property is sold. Loans are also made for weatherization of rental property, but this, of course, has added complications.

What is crucial in any such program is the Project Labor Agreement or Community Workforce Agreement. In Portland, 30% of the workforce and 20% of the contractors must be from disadvantaged or underrepresented groups; businesses owned by minorities or women must also be involved. Community organizations perform a range of activities: outreach, signups, recruiting of workers, and evaluation of effectiveness. Jobs are "bundled" by area to increase efficiencies for contractors. Inspectors not only identify improvements that need to be made and certify that the work has been done properly but function as advocates for homeowners in dealing with contractors.

A major purpose of the program is to create jobs that will offer a living wage (often using Davis-Bacon criteria) and develop skills that will lead not merely to temporary work but to a "career." This is in fact a goal of the Department of Labor's "Pathways Out of Poverty" program.

It is recognized that there are many "barriers to employment," which may range from inadequate education to a record of incarceration. Overcoming such barriers must be part of any workforce development program. Demographically it was noted that many in the Baby Boom generation are nearing retirement age, and a qualified workforce must be trained for the jobs that will be opening up.

This summary thus far has dealt mostly with what "green jobs" programs can do for homeowners, communities, and people who need work. But of course employers are a crucial factor, too. And when we are talking about influencing legislators, "green businesses" can be perhaps the most effective lobbying group, since it is obvious that they create jobs, and they do not attract the negative propaganda that is so often directed against "tree huggers" or advocates of global warming.

When we talk about "green businesses," we need to remind ourselves that there are at least two major aspects.

One is "energy efficiency." Conservation of energy through weatherization of homes and businesses makes sense because it lowers the bills paid by consumers. It also helps the budgets of energy companies, which do not need to build as many new power plants and may even begin to clean up their stack emissions and increse the safety of existing plants.

Energy efficiency also involves the manufacture of more efficient heating and air conditioning units, an important source of jobs if they are made in the U.S. under fair working conditions and at decent wages.

The other aspect is "clean energy," the use of alternative energy sources, especially solar and geothermal power. This, too, can create new jobs, both in manufacturing and in installation. Clean energy has many advantages over coal and nuclear power, which can be dangerous as well as polluting. It was also pointed out that reduction of petroleum imports from other economies would lessen the "balance of payments" deficit, freeing more funds to meet domestic needs.

Green businesses are constantly growing. In order to keep track of them, check www.apolloalliance.org. The Alliance lists not only green businesses but investment groups that have a history of funding green projects.