Just What Is a “Green” Job?

$500 million authorized for the Labor Department training programs -- while no clear definition exists.

President Obama promised three years ago that by the end of the decade America would have 5 million green jobs. We have come up a bit short. Instead, at least 14 million potential workers are jobless.

But what is a “green” job any way? To find out, start with an exchange between Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Budget and Finance Committee, and the Department of Labor.

In a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Sept. 23, 2010, Grassley wrote:

“Since February 2009, the Department has awarded approximately $490 million in Stimulus funding designed for ‘green job’ training. Yet the Department, according to its own documents, is still only ‘working to develop a definition for green sectors and jobs.’”

Earlier—in June 2010--Grassley had written Secretary Solis noting that he had opposed the American Recovery Act (the stimulus) because it was

“loaded with spending to satisfy special interests...However, it has come to my attention that the DOL (Department of Labor) is just now attempting to define what a ‘green job’ is....more than a year after the Recovery Act was signed into law and after millions of dollars in funding have already been distributed for green jobs....I would like to understand what criteria the DOL used to give out millions of taxpayer dollars prior to the definition being established.”

DOL Assistant Secretary Jane Oates responded to Grassley, saying that the stimulus act authorized DOL to award $740 million for worker training and placement, with $500 million for research, labor exchange and job training projects to “prepare workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy.” Cited were inexact definitions of green jobs existing at the time, including a Department-supported research paper called “Greening of the World of Work.” It included Indian and Native American workforce development and a database of occupational requirements and worker attributes. In other words, no specific definition.

She also said the Bureau of Labor Statistics was researching other countries and states for their definitions of green jobs. This included, she said, identifying organizations that use environmentally-friendly production.

But the BLS definition “is solely for statistical purposes and is not applicable to the grants. The definition of green jobs that results from the BLS will not affect the funding of the grants.”

Maybe some day, the DOL will find a definition that it likes.

The White House Middle Class Task Force, headed by Joe Biden, has come up with a number of definitions:

Green jobs have the potential to be quality, family-sustaining jobs that also help improve our environment. They are largely domestic jobs that can’t be off-shored. They tend to pay more than other jobs, even controlling for worker characteristics. Moreover, green jobs are an outgrowth of a larger movement to reform the way we create and use energy in both this country and the rest of the world.

They represent a growth sector, and one that offers the dual promise of providing good jobs while meeting the environmental challenge to reduce our dependence on finite fossil fuels that generate harmful carbon emission....Because definitions of green jobs are so broad at this point in time, it is impossible to generate a reliable count of how many green jobs there are in America today. We can, however, identify jobs in industries and occupations that are likely to be green jobs.

Green jobs are good jobs: they pay more, by 10 to 20 percent, depending on the definition, than other jobs. Green jobs are more likely to be union jobs than other jobs....

“There is no official or even widely-accepted definition of what constitutes a green job,” Biden’s report said.

Meanwhile the DOL’s Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of the $500 million for job training to prepare workers for green jobs, or “careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

The Inspector General wanted answers to these questions:

l. How has the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) defined green jobs?

2. What is the status of funds expended and how have grant funds been used?

3. To what extent have performance targets for training and placement been achieved?

The definition ETA used for green jobs was those associated with renewable energy and natural resources. The report of the Inspector general, released Sept. 30 included grantee’s reported data as of June 30, 2011, (latest available) for grants awarded for training and placement from December 2009 to January 2013.

“Not all green jobs so defined are new or unique occupations; some build on existing occupations,” the Inspector General’s report said.

Of the approximately $500 million provided to ETA, three training programs were awarded. Grantees reported spending 33 percent of the amounts awarded with 73 percent of the grant time elapsed.

Failure continued. Grantees reported serving 42 percent of the targeted participants and placing only 10 percent into jobs. And the effort has slowed. The Inspector General report said: “There is no evidence that grantees will effectively use the funds...by the end of the grant periods (2013).” Any of the millions not needed “should be recouped as soon as practicable.”

Training grantees reported only 1,336 participants “retained employment for at least six months, or 2 percent of the targeted 69,717 participants. “ETA could not demonstrate that grantees were on target to meet grant outcomes, nor was there a plan to ensure that they could,” the report continued.

“Not all green jobs so defined are new or unique occupations...For example, existing skills are modified to prepare workers for careers in the energy efficiency, renewable energy sectors and for other [supposed] green jobs such as power plant operators; electrical engineers; heating, ventilating and air conditioning mechanics; and installers; roofers, and construction managers.”

Examples of the breadth of occupations and tasks pertaining to what the government considers as green jobs include such tasks as: structural retrofitting and repair, collection of vegetable oil, operating a forklift, and reading product work orders.

The roughly $500 million authorized for the Labor Department training programs may, or may not, be typical in the embarrassing failures.

But the Administration doesn’t exactly have a host of successes to point to in its scramble even to be able to describe accurately what  a green job is.


Wondering what happened to your Disqus comments?

Read the Story