Green Jobs Act Appropriations: The struggle continues

Authors: Van Jones

Our fight to win full funding for the Green Jobs Act this year has been a back-and-forth battle. Recently, we have endured some setbacks and learned some tough lessons. Green For All and our allies will continue the fight – and accelerate it. But a complete victory now looks unlikely until the next president takes office.

Nonetheless, we are confident that we will successfully secure some federal funds in this year’s appropriations bill for green-collar job training – though less money than we had desired (and the bill itself may get vetoed if it even gets to President Bush’s desk). Next year, we will win more – under much more favorable circumstances.

In the meantime, here is some insight into our journey so far.

Background: A Landmark Victory in 2007
In December, President Bush signed into law the 2007 Energy Bill. Despite significant shortcomings, the Energy bill authorized two great, new programs which Green For All, our allies, and our Congressional champions worked hard to have included. One is the Green Jobs Act, authorizing $125 million to train about 30,000 people in green-collar jobs. The other is the Energy Efficiency and Conservation (“Green”) Block Grant Program. The Green Block Grant authorized $2 billion to help cities weatherize their buildings – thereby saving money, cutting carbon emissions and creating jobs.

When these landmark pieces of legislation passed, Green For All and many allied groups were thrilled. And yet we knew we still had a fight on our hands. Congress authorizes many new programs every year, but it doesn’t have the money to fund all of them. So winning “authorization” for a new program is just the first step. The next challenge is to convince Congress to put its money where its mouth is – by designating federal dollars to pay for that program.

Spring 2008: The Empire Strikes Back

So Green For All and our allies began working this year to win the funds. And a major battle broke out.

It started with the Bush Administration’s proposed 2009 budget. Despite signing into law the Green Jobs Act and the Green Block Grant, Bush’s budget didn’t include a dime for either program. Worse, Bush’s budget actually eliminated or under-funded a range of important, existing job training programs. The entire workforce development community was thrown on the defensive. As a result, Congressional appropriators had to work to restore funding for existing programs before they could even consider investing in new ones (like ours).

Then the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) led a coalition of anti-union business groups into the fray, on the wrong side. They opposed us because the Green Jobs Act gives a voice to businesses, community groups and labor unions in designing local training programs. The Act doesn’t force any business to hire union workers. But rather than have its members even sit at the same table with unions, ABC and its allies fought to kill the entire program.

We simply refused to back down. First of all, local training programs will be stronger if they are designed and co-owned by multiple stake-holders. Secondly, numerous reports show that apprenticeships programs, in particular, that are run with union involvement have better outcomes than those without. Thirdly, we hope that many green-collar jobs ultimately will be union or union-track jobs, with good wages and high standards. So we insisted that, whenever and wherever the federal government invests in a green job training program, it should give a voice to local unions, along with business and community groups.

Fighting Back: Key Allies Step Up
The anti-union contractors are a tough group to fight. Fortunately, we didn’t fight alone. Our allies at the Corps Network, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the Gamesa Corporation, and others, stood with us in educating Members of Congress about the importance of the Green Jobs Act and the central role that must played by labor unions in training the coming generation of green-collar workers.

Starting from the “zero dollars” that Bush allocated to both programs, and then under fire from the ABC’s of the world, we have battled back bravely.

As for the Green Block Grant, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which provided $295 million to support the program’s startup, thanks to the efforts of our friends at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It’s not $2 billion. But it is not the zero dollars that Bush had assigned the program. (The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on their Energy and Water Development bill today.)

The Green Jobs Act has faced a tougher fight. So far, we have fought our way back up to $25 million in a House subcommittee. But the relevant Senate subcommittee has provided no funding. That's why prospects for a big win in 2008 are looking grim.

Green Jobs Act: Stung in Senate, Hanging On In House
The House Labor Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee disregarded President Bush’s proposed budget and appropriated $25 million for green collar training through competitive grants to train workers in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. The bill also encourages applicants for those grants to include approaches that provide pathways out of poverty, establish career ladders, and build on existing apprenticeship programs.

The Senate Labor HHS subcommittee included language in their bill encouraging the Department of Labor to provide grants for “green” worker training programs, but they appropriated NO money. The prospects for a big win in 2008 are not looking good, but we are not done fighting.

The appropriations process is far from over. We will continue to educate members of Congress over the course of this session. When the Senate and House reconcile their different versions of the bill, we will insist that the House investment of $25 million for green-collar job training is maintained. Then we will go back for more, under the new administration.

Why We Will Win: Three Reasons
In 2009, Green For All and our allies know we will prevail. Here are three important reasons:

1. The Next President Will Be Better

Both presidential candidates are friendlier to climate solutions and green jobs than the incumbent. Both John McCain and Barack Obama specifically champion “green jobs” on their websites and in their speeches. No matter which Senator takes the oath of office, the next president is likely to allocate more funding to the Green Jobs Act and similar programs than has Bush.

2. Key Congressional Leaders Are On Board

In addition to the incredible champions in Congress who have been advocating on behalf of the Green Jobs Act through the Energy Bill and appropriations process , we are building a larger group of champions in Congress that are incorporating the Green Jobs Act’s language and principles into their own legislation. The most striking example came during this year’s Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act debate, the U.S. Senate’s first serious effort to tackle the climate crisis. Due to the efforts of Green For All, many friends, our allies at the US Conference of Mayors, and, most importantly, Senator Barbara Boxer, the Lieberman-Warner bill was amended with language that would have directed a total $63 BILLION (that’s with a “b”) to the Green Jobs Act. Over the lifetime of the bill (through 2050), it also would have allocated $136 billion to the Green Block Grant.

Next year, we will work for climate protection legislation that is much stronger than Lieberman-Warner. But this year we set an important precedent. Any subsequent climate deal is now much more likely to include a major commitment to green job training, including “green pathways out of poverty.”

3. State & Local Governments Will Pull Federal Gov Into Action

Many state and local leaders are already creating the first generation of green job training infrastructure. Because of our advocacy across the country, many of these programs have Green For All’s values of inclusion and uplift baked into them. For instance, the US Conference of Mayors recently endorsed our Green Jobs Pledge, encouraging hundreds of mayors to take action. Legislators in states like Massachusetts and California are fashioning green jobs legislation that reflects our principles. Increasingly, these state and local efforts will demand that the federal government help them prepare their workers for the emerging, green era.

The Real Trump Card: You & Our Growing Movement

Those are very important factors. But all three pale in comparison to the real trump card that this “green jobs” movement holds.

Our true power lies in our own hands. It lies within the hearts and hopes of this extraordinary and beautiful community, which has sprung up to answer the call for a just, inclusive and green economy. Grassroots support has made a big difference to Members of Congress, already.

Green For All supporters and allies now can be found in nearly every state. We are students and business owners, attorneys and artists, grandmothers and slam poets. We are every color in the rainbow. Our numbers include the rich and the poor, the young and the old. We are united by one thing: the vision of a new economy, re-engineered to fight pollution and poverty, redesigned to uplift the planet and the people, too. We ourselves, all of us, are the final guarantors of our movement’s success and progress. We are becoming an unstoppable force.

Veterans of DC battles say they are blown away by our progress, already. Ordinarily, it takes several years – and multiple tries – just to get a new program authorized. The fact that the Green Jobs Act made it all the way through both chambers of Congress – and then signed into law – on the first try was something of a miracle.

We will produce many more miracles, before we are done. This year’s hard work will pay off in innumerable ways. So on behalf of the entire Green For All team, I thank you for your ongoing support. We will be relying on it, increasingly, in the coming weeks and months.

Because we are just getting started. ☺

Toward victory,

Van Jones, President
Green For All

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