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Economic and environmental crisis

By Lydia Schwartz
Insight News

On September 8, US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) held a public forum to discuss ideas and policies that will make clean energy jobs more available to Minnesotans.

On September 8, US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) held a public forum to discuss ideas and policies that will make clean energy jobs more available to Minnesotans.

The narrow government definition of a ‘green job’ often has deterred people from thinking about how they can help their environment just by going to work. Green jobs can be anything that improves our health or reduces our carbon footprint—from installing solar panels to simply using earth-friendly products.

The featured speaker at the forum was Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. She addressed the difficulties in getting people of color involved in the green movement. Ellis-Lamkins said, “Because of the economic crisis, everyone is feeling the pain. We have to be honest and say that we need more jobs, but we also deserve better jobs…jobs that allow people to provide for their families but also help the environment…projects that we know our friends and neighbors will be working on.”

Green For All is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through a clean energy economy. The organization works in collaboration with business, government, labor, and grassroots communities to create and implement programs that increase quality jobs and opportunities in the green industry while holding the most vulnerable people at the center of their agenda.

Ellison admitted that it can be “discouraging for people going to the polls who have not seen the change that they have wanted.”

Ellis-Lamkins said that “change is a call-and-response process…We need to have this conversation with more than just the people who already agree with us. It’s not just about whether you believe in global warming or not, we need to get rid of politicians that continue to protect an industry that is dying.”

Also speaking at the forum, J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director of Fresh Energy, stressed the importance of all of us as citizens “to push our leaders to make the changes we wish to see.” She discussed the need for “cheap, clean energy because it isn’t fair to poor and middle-class folks” to carry the economic and enviromental burdens. Hamilton also says that we must “break-out and have creative conversations. We need lots of solutions and job training programs.” She says that we also need to make sure our elected officials know what we expect, “and be sure to thank and reward when they accomplish it.”

Fresh Energy promotes a modern, innovative energy system for the 21st century. The organization provides research, advocacy, and innovative policy models while engaging citizens to take action on the energy issues that affect us all. Fresh Energy’s efforts focus on clean energy, transportation connections, global warming solutions, and energy justice.

Both working people and environmentalists have a stake in building the new green economy. Also speaking at the forum was John Dybvig, Economic Development Manager of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations that is dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy. The partnership seeks to transform our economy through renewable energy, energy efficiency, mass transit and rail, a new smart grid and other environmental solutions has the potential to create millions of jobs, while reducing global warming emissions and moving America toward energy independence. Dybvig argues that “those polluting should pay full price for it. The green economy will then take off and the price will go down.”

Ellison addressed the struggle in obtaining grants for green job training. “It’s a challenge for all of us,” he said. The BlueGreen Alliance has developed an innovative new training program designed to provide Minnesota workers with the skills they need to succeed in the green economy, called GreenPOWER (Partnership of Workforce and Employer Resources). The program provides valuable skills in energy efficiency, environmental awareness, waste reduction, and lean production techniques. GreenPOWER training helps workers succeed in a wide range of green and greening industries, including producers of energy-efficient building materials, renewable energy component parts, advanced drive-trains, hybrid batteries, and other environmentally-friendly products.

For more information on the program, call (612) 466-4512 or visit

RENEW (Renewable Energy Network Empowering Workers) is a similar green training program run by the City of Minneapolis in collaboration with Ramsey County Workforce Solutions. This project focuses on providing sustainable pathways out of poverty to some of the cities’ most disadvantaged citizens, while ensuring that area businesses have access to a well-trained workforce that is prepared to carry out the work of greening the local economy. RENEW presents a unique opportunity to build the economic capital of low-income residents and the workforce capital of the region’s growing green business base. For more information on this program, visit

Also speaking at the forum was Bill Mackey, Recording Secretary of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 110. The IBEW seeks to organize workers throughout the electrical industry, including those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing firms. Mackey says that one thing we can do is ensure that “city contracts go to local companies dedicated to using green products and strategies.”

Mackey is also President of the Hunt Electric Corporation, which strives to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in the buildings it works on. is an internationally recognized green-building certification system that provides third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. LEED, developed by the US Green Building Council, provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Mackey also discussed the difficulties in financing green projects because people are not often willing to pay more now and wait for the energy savings later. He said he “works for less because it is satisfying to get my union brothers contracts…but we also need people to sell the projects.”

Ellison added, “we also need to figure out a way to organize the financing for more green projects.”

Gerardo Ruiz, Founder and CEO of Solarflow Energy, also spoke at the forum. “In the end, it is about money but we must look at it as a service to society,” he said. Ruiz argued that capping carbon is a critical piece of legislation. Similar to city ordinances, he said “you can’t just throw your garbage into the street without consequences,” businesses should not be able to throw their pollution into our environment and not pay the price.

To achieve the changes we wish to see, “we have to be actively vocal to our leaders,” Ruiz said. “But we are also extremely powerful as consumers to create market demand for clean energy and environmentally-friendly products…Radical change comes when we’re scared of what will happen if we don’t act, and we take a little step forward,” he said.

Solarflow Energy provides turnkey and solar leasing solutions to both residential and commercial markets for an effortless shift to solar. The company is a Minnesota eco-venture with a triple bottom line—people, planet, and profits. Their vision is to make solar electricity financially accessible to all, manifest a downward trend in solar electricity costs, and help perpetuate a positive change in the environment.

The Clean Energy Jobs Public Forum was held at the South Education Center in Richfield, an LEED-certified facility.

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