The harsh realities of the BP oil disaster and ongoing unemployment from our national recession are driving an important conversation in Washington about our addiction to oil and the promise of a clean and green future. Simply put, this disaster must result in directing our nation toward policies that make the United States more competitive in the green economy, while at the same time providing opportunities for many Americans who have been deeply harmed by the recession.
A recent column from Van Jones, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, makes clear that any successful clean energy bill must include measures to help “low-income and vulnerable Americans” who have traditionally been employed in industries that have faced steep declines as a result of the recession. Construction is one such industry where an estimated 2.1 million workers are unemployed, underscoring the importance of having a serious discussion about reintegrating these workers into sustainable, promising, and stable jobs that also help the environment.
The American Power Act, introduced by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), would provide many unemployed workers with dignified and promising opportunities in a new clean energy economy. One major provision in the bill, the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project, will target jobs toward construction workers, women, and people of color, while also supporting job training programs, educational grants, and investments in clean energy technologies.
A sound bill should also protect the finances of the most at-risk Americans. The American Power Act is not expected to cause energy prices to rise steeply, but even a small rise in energy costs could create problems for households with the lowest incomes. The Senate bill offers protections to low- and moderate-income households from the financial burden of rising energy prices by helping them pay their basic energy needs through refunds and rebates.
But the bill has some shortcomings, as well. Some provisions that were part of the House bill passed last year are excluded from the American Power Act, including the authorization of $125 million in green-collar job training opportunities and compliance with wage requirements for those jobs. These two provisions would improve access to training opportunities and ensure that green jobs pay well.
It is necessary to reconsider the future potential of clean energy initiatives. It is also important to create energy policies that benefit struggling workers while also putting the nation on a healthy path toward a sustainable and secure clean energy economy. The tragedy in the gulf and continued unemployment make it more urgent than ever for Congress to take action to get us on that path.
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