Good Jobs, Green Jobs Coming to the U.S.

I attended the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Close to 1,500 people attended, and half of those were representatives from the United Steel Workers (very impressive). Folks gathering Tuesday and Wednesday came together to learn about current opportunities and efforts related to good, healthy green jobs in the U.S., and what is coming down the pike. And today was a lobby day for conference attendees to talk with their members of Congress about why climate change matters and the need to invest now to prepare our infrastructure and create good jobs for workers.

The opening session on Tuesday featured key note addresses by Leo W. Gerard from the United Steelworkers (USW) and Dr. David Danielson from the U.S. Department of Energy. The following panel featured Bryan Walsh from TIME magazine, Kevin J. Anton from Alcoa, Kevin Knobloch from the Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, as well as Mr. Gerard from the USW. The discussion focused on bringing climate change to the national agenda, a few highlights include:

• Kevin J. Anton from Alcoa – “If you want to go fast, go by yourself; if you want to go strong, go together.” The goal of making climate change a national issue, of getting Congress to address it needs to be a collective effort – all the groups gathered here today, the USW, Sierra Club, General Motors, Kaiser Aluminum, and others need to work together.
• U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – Two things prompt legislative action – 1) disasters (like Super Storm Sandy), and 2) Executive action that forces the issue. This needs to change.

And the closing speaker for the morning was Jacqueline Patterson from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Jacqueline had many words of wisdom, inspiration, and hope for the future of the U.S. and greener, healthier jobs, but one thing she said stuck the longest and strongest: “We need to get money out of politics.” It’s true, but how?

My next stop during the day was a session under Tools for the Clean Economy on offshore wind, called “Build Here, Build Now: The Case for an American Offshore Wind Energy Industry.” Offshore wind is very important to me for a couple of reasons. I live in Virginia, we are a coastal state, and currently we have no wind energy – on land, or offshore. But we do have wind! Last fall, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Dominion Power a $4 million grant for an offshore wind energy test project. So wind is a real opportunity for Virginia, and other coastal states, as well as the Great Lakes.

This session featured future plans for developing offshore wind in the U.S., including a new project that will be launched soon in New Bedford, Massachusetts, “New Bedford Will Host Marine Commercial Terminal to Support Offshore Wind,” and also spotlighted existing offshore wind installations in Germany. We look to Europe for the expertise on offshore wind – Germany, Scotland, and others. Dirk Scheelje from the Ministry of Science and Research, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, talked about existing installations, future projects, and highlighted the point that this was an opportunity for the workforce not only on the coast, but throughout the country. Many of the presenters had great photos to share of offshore wind installations and components, but they were all from overseas, hopefully soon we will have some photos of our own to share. New Bedford should soon.

I also discovered a great new resource at the GJGJ conference, ChemHAT — the Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox — is a new internet database designed to offer up easy-to-use information that can help protect individual workers, their families and co-workers against the harm that chemicals can cause; “ChemHAT is based on the simple idea that when we know how a chemical can hurt us we can take protective action.” You simply go to the website and enter in the chemical you want to learn about. I also learned some very unsettling facts about chemical management and effects:
• Our workforce is exposed to 10,000 different chemicals;
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) manages 16 of them;
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a listing of about 200 others;
• 40,000 workers have died because exposure to toxins; and
• Women working in the auto manufacturing or plastics industries are 5 times more likely to get breast cancer.

The Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conferences was a great experience. It highlighted all the great work that is being done, but also revealed all the important work that still needs to be done.