But Congress and the Obama administration hope that the resulting employment goes beyond traditional infrastructure work and includes a significant number of so-called “green jobs” that would both expand payrolls and protect the environment.
The two chambers are ready to begin negotiations to combine an $819 billion House stimulus package, which was approved last week, and an $838 billion measure the Senate passed Tuesday, February 10, by a 61-37 vote.
The bills created a partisan rift.
The House version passed with no Republican support, and the Senate bill garnered only three GOP votes. Most Republicans asserted that the measures would not revive the economy but were rather just vehicles for government projects.
Now a House-Senate conference will try to reconcile the bills quickly. There are wide differences in some areas, but not when it comes to spending on renewable energy. The House invests about $41 billion, while the Senate allocates about $39 billion.
Experts aren’t certain how many green jobs might grow out of the stimulus legislation. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the original Senate bill would create between 600,000 and 1.9 million total jobs by the end of 2011.
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is confident that the $19 billion in energy tax breaks included in the Senate version will increase employment.
“These incentives will create green jobs producing the next generation of renewable energy sources—wind, solar, geothermal—spur development of alternatives and help to combat climate change by reducing our use of carbon-emitting fuels,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, in a floor speech Monday.
One of the provisions in the Senate bill would establish a 30 percent investment tax credit for facilities that produce advanced energy equipment. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, hopes that that proposal will survive the conference negotiations because she said it would help her state recover.
Stabenow illustrates her point by noting that a wind turbine contains about 1,200 parts. Building them would produce work for tool and die makers and machine shops that have been hit hard by the faltering automotive industry.
“It is green manufacturing and good-paying green jobs that will sustain and grow the middle class of America,” Stabenow said. “The next generation of manufacturing should be green manufacturing.”
It’s not just scientists and engineers who would benefit from the growth of the environmental sector. Laid-off auto workers have skills that can transfer to activities like weatherization and insulation in the wind and solar thermal industries.
A study by Management Information Services Inc. showed that if 30 percent of U.S. electricity was generated from renewable energy by 2030, tens of thousands of jobs would be created for steel and sheet metal workers, electricians and welders.
“A green job is a blue-collar job done for a green purpose,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance.
Experts foresee a verdant labor market. “In the next few years, I don’t think there will be trouble in finding workers for most or all of these jobs,” said Roger Bezdek, president of Management Information Services.
Organized labor leaders are urging that green jobs come with worker protections, including the right to organize. A recent report commissioned by the labor group Change to Win, the Sierra Club, the Laborers International Union of North America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters calls for environmental subsidy recipients to abide by labor standards.
Other recommendations include making government contractors abide by living-wage rules, implementing prevailing-wage requirements and using best-value contracting and project labor agreements.
“If it doesn’t put green in working people’s pockets, it is not a green-collar job,” said Terence O’Sullivan, president of the laborers union. “If it doesn’t ensure workers get respect, receive good benefits and have the freedom to choose to join a union, it’s not a green-collar job.”
—Mark Schoeff Jr.