IGEL Fellow Bernard David’s personal account of the Vice President Task Force Meeting

First Meeting of Middle Class Task Force
The Vice President of the United States
“Green Jobs as a Pathway to a Strong Middle Class”
February 27, 2009
Irvine Auditorium, University of Pennsylvana
12:00 noon – 3:30 p.m.
Summary by Bernard J. David, Senior Fellow, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at Penn/Wharton

Vice President Biden started the session with introductory remarks.  He stated that the goal of this session was to discuss green jobs as a part of a larger dialogue about job creation for the middle class.

The Vice President said that the American Recovery Act of 2009 included $11 billion to build smart grids throughout the United States—3 thousand miles of new high tech transmission lines, to start; 40 million new smart meters with the hopes that they would encourage businesses to use smart meters.  $5 billion is set aside to make housing more efficient.  And $500 million to train workers in such areas as energy audits—with real training, where they would be retrained periodically.

Green jobs, the Vice President pointed out, pay 10-20% more than other similar skill-based jobs.  By greening the infrastructure, energy costs are also reduced.  And, the overall benefit is a cleaner environment.

The Vice President introduced the other cabinet members who were there—the Secretaries of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation.  

He pointed out that there was already a collaborative effort between HUD and Energy involving the retrofit of urban housing.
Senators Specter and Casey gave remarks as Senator Specter was lauded for his support of the America Recovery Act of 2009.  Vice President Biden acknowledged that the Act would not have passed but for Senator Specter’s support.

After remarks from two of Pennsylvania’s Congressman, where Congressman Fattah discussed the $6 billion in block grants that the Federal government has to give out to lower energy costs, the Vice President directed the session to the first panel.
The first panel included John Podesta, Van Jones and Fred Krupp.

John Podesta of the Center for American Progress discussed that green jobs are more labor intensive and more local.  He said that energy efficiency investments are high return and low risk.  Podesta stated that there are 130 million homes in the U.S., and 75% of them need to be retrofitted to be more energy efficient.  He said he felt that it made sense to use revolving loan programs to fund these programs.  And green job training needed to be coordinated with this energy retrofitting effort.

Van Jones emphasized the need to create jobs for those in the ghetto.  He said that “greening the ghetto” first was very important.  Jones showed a video that pointed out ways to both create jobs and green cities, including a novel business in the South Bronx called Rebuilders Source, which resells building materials for reuse.

Fred Krupp unveiled a new website that is tracking environmentally friendly jobs throughout the country.  It is found at:  www.lesscarbonmorejobs.org   Fred spent a lot of time reviewing  supply chains showing that many jobs are created at each step of the way.  In the wind turbine business, for example, he showed that there are 8,000 parts in a wind turbine and that many of these parts were quite simple.  In their entirety, though, they can create a lot of jobs and growth.  He discussed that EDF has identified 250 different markets where there are green jobs and cited some of them—LEDs, concentrated solar, auxiliary power units, management of hog waste, and waste heat capture.  He cited Cree, Inc., a company in South Carolina, that manufactured all of the color LEDs for the China Olympics.  Krupp also cited Sunrise Solar and Dowding Industries as companies which are actually hiring.
During the question and answer, the Secretary of Agriculture pointed out the urban reforest program is a greening program sponsored by USDA to green urban environments.

Secretary Chu pointed out that DOE has $5 billion for low income home weatherization and $6.3 billion (through the cities) available to increase energy efficiency.  Chu said there weren’t enough energy auditors available today to scale up the energy efficiency building measures, and he asked the panel how they would see scaling up to be done as soon as possible.  (The question was answered later, with confidence, by a private sector businessman from Oregon, who claimed it could easily be done and that it should start with the schools).  Secretary Chu acknowledged the collaboration with HUD and said that there is $15 billion available for public housing retrofits.

Van Jones responded that he felt a lot of training of talent to do retrofits could be done in community colleges and that the unions needed to be engaged.

Fred acknowledged that we needed to drive private money into this retrofit equation along with the federal money.  In order to be effective both Chu and Fred acknowledged that there needed to be a decoupling of rates, something that I got the impression that Chu is addressing.

The Vice President asked what the leverage could be if the Federal government invested $19 billion, from a multiplier effect in the private sector.  Fred Krupp estimated it to be 10 to 1; something that Secretary Chu corroborated.

Secretary Chu pointed that ESCOs are already working in the marketplace to reduce energy costs, now, without Federal subsidies.  He also pointed out that there was $3 billion now being targeted to public housing authorities.

The group acknowledged that it made sense to use public dollars to bring in private sector funds.  The group acknowledged that innovation funds were critical, especially Secretary Chu and Fred Krupp.

The Secretary of Labor asked who was doing the best thinking in this area.  Van Jones responded that from a financing standard, the Emerald Cities initiative based at MIT appeared to be a leader.

The Vice President pointed out that there was a dynamic tension between getting money out quickly but doing it thoughtfully.  He pointed out the import of considering both angles, acknowledging that this was a really hard issue.  He said that the administration would be completely transparent in its thinking and was looking to everyone in the United States for creative approaches.
Van Jones emphasized the importance of early childhood education in the environmental area.

The Domestic Policy advisor asked, “what about mid-career people who have been laid off?  and what are we missing?”  No one really answered the question but it showed the openness of this administration and called for any/all responses.

Governor Ed Rendell started the next panel.  He said that others would comment on green job creation but he wanted to address three things which the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had done.

1) Government can help create markets.
2) Government can provide incentives and investment to nurture companies from inception through growth, and
3) The government can be a user, which helps create markets.

Governor Rendell discussed the RPS in PA including the strongest photovoltaic standards in the nation.  Pennsylvania’s requirement is that 18% of all of its energy is renewable by 2019.  The Governor discussed Gamesa and its presence in Pennsylvania.  He also discussed fuels and the requirements for 1 billion gallons to come from non-fossil fuels by a date certain.
Incentives.  Rendell discussed tax credits and funds which the Commonwealth has provided – $925 million to create incentives and $615 million for the energy investment fund.  He also noted the steps the Commonwealth has taken to conserve energy—12.5% in three years…and help companies at every stage.

The government as a user.  Rendell discussed the coal gasification operation which Katie McGinty brought to him several years ago and encouraged the Commonwealth to sign a 10 year contract with the firm for its off-take which allowed the company to get financing.  It never got approval during the previous administration in D.C. so it didn’t happen, but Rendell cited this as an example of how the Federal government could become a purchaser of many green products and services, including hybrid electric cars.
Rendell said that the government needed to lead by example as Pennsylvania has done, requiring that 20% of all the energy that it uses will come from green energy sources by 2010. 

Rendell confirmed that capitalism is the best system to use but the government can help fast track (or catalyze) the development of these industries by being a buyer.

Mayor Nutter stated that Philadelphia will become the capital of the green economy.  He cited the many things which the Philadelphia government is doing, inclusive of the Philadelphia green jobs program which commences in April.

Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, represented that green jobs were any jobs that improve the quality of the environment.  He said that the USW had formed the Blue/Green Alliance, for transferring blue-collar jobs into green collar jobs.  They have been studying the topic for a while, and he told the Vice President that they have developed a scorecard, which will rate the job creation done by the Vice President’s task force.  Gerard also stated the need to detoxify our buildings through the process of dealing with energy efficiency and green jobs.  Gerard stresses that all of these programs feed into security of the country—national, energy and economic.

The head of the L.A. community reinvestment authority citied numerous examples of the renewable energy standards in the DPW including 35% renewable by 2030 overall and 20% by 2015.  She gave examples of how the CRA is investing and the rate of return which drove them:  affordability of housing, green values, prevailing wages, etc.  She also stated that Cleantech LA had been formed as a joint cooperative with businesses and government to see what could be done to stimulate clean technology investments and actions.

Mark Gaitlin, a private green commercial developer from Oregon, spoke on the economic opportunities created in the green building space.  His comments were given very confidently, and he engendered the sense that we could implement green jobs in retrofits or buildings in a very short time frame.  It is worth reading his testimony on the web.

As Q and A ensued, Rendell discussed the money set aside to modernize schools as potential to be used for energy efficiency measures.  The Secretary of HUD and Secretary Chu felt that they would work to get money out into the system for this type of retrofitting asap.  The Vice President pointed out that at the first cabinet meeting, Secretary Chu asked how he could get monies out of DOE faster.  The Vice President said that legal counsel was working to find methods to do so and that he might need the help of Congress, as he looked at the Congressional representatives on stage.  Chu feels that within 4-5 months he can get money out in a thoughtful and efficient way. 

It became clear that a coordination effort between the various federal departments and the States was necessary, and Rendell and Chu commenced dialogue on how to make that happen.  It is clear that the States and the federal cabinet Secretaries are evolving as the points of coordination.

Mayor Nutter asked how we could get all of this accomplished in 2009.  The Vice President stated that the administration’s goal was to streamline the regulatory process but not to sacrifice thoughtfulness and transparency.  He commented that what we are attempting to accomplish has never been done before at this scale and with this rapidity.  He hoped that within the next three weeks the new regulatory scheme would be refined.

Mark Gaitlin mentioned that tax credits were good, but in today’s economy no one really needed them.  He also said that we should look for transformational opportunities.

The Vice President stated that the Act is meant to be an 18 month stimulus, but it is married to the budget.  The Act serves as an initial platform to what will hopefully be a long-term success.  The Vice President said that we need to get it right.  He said that the administration would not raise expectations that are not real and that the administration, through its transparency, would not squander the money.

The Secretary of Agriculture said that the rural communities should not be forgotten, as a lot of emphasis was placed on urban communities.  He said that there were a lot of dollars allocated in Agriculture that could be applied to rural issues and pointed out that most farmers needed to get a job outside of the farm because of the farmer’s income.
Secretary Chu said that transformational technology was also a very important part of the equation and that increased funding is proposed in this budget for NSF (my words).

The Vice President stated that green jobs range from those for folks with a GED to those with a PhD and that the entire spectrum needed to be considered.

The Secretary of Labor said that the Federal government was working diligently with the State governments to get dollars out.
While the session wasn’t over, I had to leave.


This administration in D.C. really wants to do the right thing, in a bi-partisan way, to solve both the economic and jobs problems of the U.S.

They realize that energy efficiency measures in buildings may be the low hanging fruit, but there are other dimensions to job creation which range from the GEDs to PhDs.
The administration seems to be genuinely interested in listening to anyone who has a suggestion and consider it.

The administration wants to act swiftly but thoughtfully.  Egos seem to be in check and solutions seem to be the focus.

A systems approach is seemingly being employed in the solutions.
Transparency is the new world order.

The administration is filled with a lot of truly thoughtful, intelligent individuals.
The key will be implementation.  Large-scale deployments are never easy.  As I sat there today, I wondered if the military might have a role here—after all they frequently have to do massive deployments rapidly.  In fact, my mind wandered to the perfect leader to oversee the massive deployment:  Colin Powell.  His compatriot in the effort should be Ed Rendell.

All in all, I’ve never felt so good about the approach out government is taking.  And I’m a free market guy.  They seem to have a very balanced view on the government’s role and the need to stimulate the marketplace to operate as only it can:  to catalyze economic activity through large-scale purchase agreements and appropriate regulations, inclusive of the proposed carbon cap legislation, which were discussed in today’s session.

We should all feel very good and realize that if we have something to contribute, now is the time to speak up.


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Save the Date: IGEL's 4th Annual Conference-Workshop on Valuing Water: Business Challenges & Opportunities for Innovation

Fourth Annual Conference-Workshop

Save the Date

March 22, 2011
World Water Day
8th Floor Colloquium
Jon M. Huntsman Hall
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
3730 Walnut Street, Philadelphia

Topic: Valuing Water: Business Challenges & Opportunities for Innovation