the (new) american worker

Cash for Caulkers: Not Exactly a Done Deal

With a healthy 346-68 lead, the House passed yesterday the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, a bill that offers tax incentives for investment in home energy efficiency, with the hopes of creating scores of new auditing and construction jobs. Of course, with the passage of a bill now humorously termed “Cash for Caulkers,” the usual flood of celebratory DC press releases flooded the wires.

Beyond the press release: Unless DC Democrats can make the budget cuts required by Republican support of the new Home Star jobs bill, the "Cash for Caulkers" program is just an empty promise.

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office: “The legislation will create nearly 168,000 jobs in construction, manufacturing, and retail – some of the hardest hit sectors during the Bush recession.” (LOL, the “Bush recession” – kudos to the communications officers for that one).

From Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “I am pleased that this legislation will incentivize targeted job training and financial assistance for low-income communities and the chronically unemployed.”

Woo! What a great bill, right? Creating good jobs for American workers building energy efficient infrastructure, WHILST trimming back tax burdens. Um, well kind of – as Atlantic Journal Constitution blogger Jamie Dupree notes, Democrats actually turned against this bill in early voting, in protest of a Republican “Deficit Neutrality” motion. This motion essentially mandated that the costs of the “Cash for Caulkers” program be offset by new revenues or cutbacks elsewhere to come into effect. Without cuts or new revenue creation, it will, in effect, be a nothing bill. After some wrangling, Democrats voted with the motion, meaning they have some work to do before any of those promised jobs can be created. Of course, with the House passage,  the Senate now faces a similar challenge.

In my opinion, politicians need to get to work on this issue – and fast. After all, these jobs aren’t handouts – they are in high demand. Even before the dangling of tax credits, it has been clear Americans want to improve their homes. I recall an article in the Atlantic a few months back that followed the training of two brothers as energy auditors – one a former real estate broker psyched for the huge demand for his new-found talents. In light of this promise, let’s hope Washington can get it together and find a place – with some real meaning behind it  – for the Cash for Caulkers program.


Dear LA Businesses – What If Your Jobs Are Simply Inefficient?

There has been a lot of tension lately between Los Angeles-area businesses and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a media spectacle that comes on the heels of Villaraigosa’s recent proposal to enact rate hikes at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Yesterday marked the latest chapter in the saga, as the LA City Council voted 13-1 to reject Villaraigosa’s plan. The council will, however, take up the issue again Tuesday, thus propeling the mayor’s plan forward at least another week.

In a fight to shift demand towards more sustainable energy sources, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is honorably heading off political convenience for a broader good.

Quick to make Villaraigosa out as an economy-slaying villain, these businesses have claimed the mayor’s plan will bury businesses and consumers alike with rate hikes that could peak at 28 percent, according to this article in the LA Times. ‘How can we possibly survive this’ – CEOs have cried out. In nearly the same breath, they easily found their own answer – by cutting costs and reducing staff.

Naturally, in these tough economic times, any job losses are somewhat undesirable. But what Villaraigosa, in my opinion, is trying to do here is greater than propping up area businesses. What he is trying to do is use economics to shift demand towards more sustainable, cost-effective sources of power – in particular, solar utilities. And on the jobs front, well, Villaraigosa claims he can in fact create new jobs with his plan – new jobs that will not just send people to work every day, but increase their utility for the community at large. According to the LA Times, the mayor’s office hopes to create 16,000 new jobs in solar installation, and 1,600 new jobs for “DWP doctors” that would work as advisers to LA-area households on how to increase their energy efficiency.

One of my favorite things about this story is the political risks that are being taken. Even circling the topic of layoffs in a struggling economy is risky at best. But Villaraigosa and his supporters are taking the high road – putting good ideas to work and taking on the hard work of persuading communities to acknowledge opportunity costs. And guess what? Just because you have a job doesn’t mean it is necessarily all that efficient or that the government is required to do all things necessary to maintain your livelihood (ahem, GM).

A great quote from LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon (via LA Times):

“That concept has won the support of Councilman Richard Alarcon, who said that, as Los Angeles shifts to a green economy, some businesses will need to make ‘bottom-line decisions’ about whether they can continue to operate. ‘There are going to be more businesses that will not succeed. But if they don’t succeed, we want it to be for the right reasons — because we are moving the economy in the right direction,’ he said.”

A less great quote from City Council President Eric Garcetti:

“‘I’ve never been opposed to a responsible step forward’ in increasing electric rates, Garcetti said. ‘But to take a giant leap in the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression seems to be rash.'”

Ah, the Great Depression – or the “Great Recession” as the AP now asks reporters to term the economic downturn of late. Yes, it is valid, but how long will it just be a convenient excuse?

–Mia Lamar

Sen. Kerry: Energy Bill Is About Jobs
March 13, 2010, 12:04 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , ,

Perhaps in hope of winning over his reticent Republican colleagues who still claim disbelief in global warming, Senator Kerry (D-MA) came out today to rebrand his environmental legislation as a jobs effort. In this struggling economy, who can protest that?

The AP report that, as opposed to the House’s “cap and trade effort,” climate is simply “along for the ride” in the Senate’s version.

“It’s primarily a jobs bill, and an energy independence bill and a pollution reduction-health-clean air bill,” Kerry said. “Climate sort of follows. It’s on for the ride.”

Some hardcore greenies might buck at this frank language, but anyone who knows politics knows Kerry is simply doing what he needs to do to actually get something done down in DC. Knowing that Republicans will have a harder time turning away from legislation that is packed with job creation, Kerry has simply rebranded cap and trade. Good for him!

Gillibrand on Green Jobs: Good Ideas, But Still Too Political
March 9, 2010, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,

If this doesn’t capture the political culture surrounding federal efforts to stimulate green job creation…

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has all the right ideas on green job creation - but is still too political to acknowledge publicly a speaking engagement yesterday with Van Jones, Obama's former "green jobs" czar.

It started with a simple Google search. I was wondering whatever happened to Van Jones, the energetic “green jobs” czar that resigned from the Obama administration last fall amid criticism of his unfortunate association with 9/11 conspiracy groups. Less controversially, Jones also released a book last year, “Green Collar Economy,” that detailed the labor opportunities of a green tech renaissance.

I found two things in my search – one, Jones actually made a recent “comeback,” accepting both a teaching position at Princeton University and a fellowship at the Center for American Progress late last month. Second, I found an article by HuffPo business reporter Shahien Nasiripour, detailing Jones’s appearance just yesterday with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), at a conference on green job creation. Nasiripour reports Gillibrand’s statements included a branding of green jobs as “the greatest market opportunity of our generation,” and a call upon President Obama for a “shoot-for-the-moon” speech to rally greenies and skeptics alike on the pressing need for job creation in a new energy economy. It is a great piece – for two reasons. First, it captures the heady statements of a “green” Senator challenging the political status quo. Second, Nasiripour is just about the only one to report that these statements even occurred. Despite comparing the urgency of creating a green workforce to putting a man on the moon, there is absolutely no mention of Gillibrand’s speech on either her federal or electoral sites (Gillibrand is up for election this year, her first public election since NY Governor David Paterson appointed her to Hilary Clinton’s former seat last year.)

I found all this pretty odd. It’s not as if Gillibrand has been shy about the need to provide out-of-work Americans with new opportunities in cleantech and energy. Last January, she joined fellow New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to announce an $8 million federal grant to Rochester, NY-based PathStone Corporation. According to a release on her own site, “low income workers will be taught the skills required in high growth industries, including energy efficiency and renewable energy,” as a result of this grant. So why get all shy about her energetic statements at yesterday’s conference?

Unfortunately, I think the answer here is purely political. Another quick Google search shows Gillibrand caught some flak last month, from a potential Republican opponent, for committing to a speaking engagement alongside Jones, a man Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has previously decried as a “communist.” Sigh. I think Jones’s prior association with “truther” groups is pretty unfortunate, even stupid for a man with so much legitimate promise. The new rules for absolute human spotlessness in Washington – despite the fact that most humans, let alone politicians, are hardly spotless – probably did make Jones the wrong pick for a federal post. But let’s not let all this completely obstruct the fact that Jones has got a lot of really great ideas, ideas that have the potential to help any American, of any political party. Gillibrand should be communicating this at the highest volume – to put politics to bed and good ideas back in charge.

–Mia Lamar