For her birthday this year, Administrator of the EPA Lisa Jackson received a big pair of boxing gloves. Not your average birthday present, the gloves were presented by Leo Gerard, President of United Steel Workers Union, as he introduced her at the Green Jobs Good Jobs Conference yesterday morning. He warned her that during the next year of her life, she’d have to put up a tough fight to protect her EPA initiatives, but not to worry because the labor unions and the environmental organizations were all in her corner of the ring.
The size and enthusiasm of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference seemed testimony to Gerard’s declaration of support. CAPAF’s Lisbeth Kaufman has the story.
Organized by the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations with 14 million members, the event brought together 1600 enthusiasts for protecting the environment and creating jobs. The 1600, who came from 700 organizations across the country, gathered at the mammoth Marriott Wardmon Park Hotel in Washington DC . They came for an expansive list of speakers, plenaries, and dozens of workshops examining how to make smart investments, regulations and public-private partnerships that will lead the country to a clean energy economy.
The speakers who started the day, echoed Gerard’s mix of concern and optimism, and added a few punches of their own. John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, who moderated the plenary panel, pointed out that “environmental protection is not just environmental strategy, its central to economic development.” The speakers on Podesta’s panel, including USW International President Leo W. Gerard, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley and Union of Concerned Scientists President Kevin Knobloch, agreed and added that the country needs to commit to a longterm sustainable economic strategy that incorporates environmental protection at its core.
Frances Beineke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council warned that “2011 will be an important year for all of us, but our efforts will be severely challenged. Backed by the strong network of the Blue Green Alliance and its 14 million members, we will prevail.” A member of the National Commission on the BP Spill, she turned her jabs toward the oil industry, saying that “if we ever needed a story to remind us of why we need public oversight to protect public safety, the deep water horizon disaster is it.” She added that while competition and prices for dirty fossil fuels increases, the market for renewables is unlimited.
Likewise, Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Economic Assistant to the President, warned that budget restrictions for this year are going to be tough, and that we need to chose our investments wisely to ensure economic growth for the future. He proposed targeted investments in parts of ARRA that were particularly successful like energy innovation hubs and ARPA-E, but warned that “we’re going to have to fight for the investments that matter. We’ll have to make a case for why they are absolutely essential to winning the economic future.” He also emphasized the need for government commitment to clean energy, focusing on proposals like the CES to spur private sector investment in clean energy and job creation.
Jackson herself was optimistic but defensive, as if she had already put on her boxing gloves and was gearing up for a fight. “Since the EPA’s inception we have heard concerns that our regulations hurt the bottom line and impede job creation” she said. “In truth EPA regulations not only close loopholes, but create certainty for investors that create jobs.” She pointed out that many of the EPA’s regulations have spurred investment and innovation, and created jobs. For instance, as a result of the EPA’s energy efficiency initiatives every dollar saved has netted two additional dollars. And the President’s new Better Building Initiative will save companies and business owners $40 billion a year, in addition to reducing pollution and spurring technological advancements. She also pointed out that over all, environmental protection creates jobs””107 million jobs as of 2008. She was particularly adamant about the benefits of the clean air act, explaining that this act alone has provided trillions of dollars in health benefits for the American people, while actually decreasing in costs. For everyone dollar spent on the Clean Air Act, the American people received $40 in benefits.
“Say what you want about the EPA’s business sense, but we know how to get a return on investment,” Jackson said proudly, continuing “the irony is that [the Clean Air Act is] one of the most economic investment programs in American history: something that the American people have done for themselves. Yet it has been maligned. That’s why we need to shift the debate, and show that environmental protection and economic growth can go hand in hand.”
The people at the Green Jobs Good Jobs conference almost embody this shift. A mix of enviros and union members, they physically demonstrate that environmental interests and business interests can co-exist and align, like the left and right gloves that Lisa Jackson got for her birthday.
A full agenda of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference is available here.
Information on the Green Jobs Advocacy Day can be found here.
— Lisbeth Kaufman is CAPAF’s Special Assistant for Energy and Environmental Policy.