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By Robert McClure
SEATTLE—You could tell by the way Obama administration officials pep-talked a roomful of clean-energy businesspeople today that the White House realizes it hasn’t convinced Americans that “tackling climate change = ending the recession.”
Again and again EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Undersecretary Kristina Johnson pounded on the jobs issue at a pre-Copenhagen climate talks event designed to showcase how energy efficiency, the smart grid and renewable energy can boost employment rates.
“We’re hearing a whole host of reasons today to support American clean energy. There are national security reasons. There are environmental reasons, and there are public-health reasons,” Jackson said. “But perhaps the most compelling reason at this moment and in this place is the economy.”
The very setting of the clean energy forum fairly screamed “JOBS!” It was a nearly-finished “innovation center” that is leasing space for startups, built by McKinstry Co. beside the firm’s south Seattle offices. McKinstry is all about energy efficiency in buildings (which is where something like a third to two-fifths of our energy use occurs, depending on how you’re counting).
And, get this: Even as the recession roared ahead into high gear earlier this year, McKinstry announced plans to hire 500 people.
That can happen more, Jackson said. She ticked off the administration’s recent investments in new battery technology and cleaner diesel as well as solar projects in California and Florida and wind energy in Michigan. She said the president’s budget will provide for thousands more jobs in the green-energy sector.
And she boiled the message down this way: “Green energy jobs are up and clean energy costs are down.”
“Everywhere in America, people are doing the hard work of pulling our economy up and out of the most significant economic downturn since World War II,” Jackson said. “And we’re not only addressing immediate concerns, we’re laying a foundation for our economic future. And we all believe a cornerstone of that foundation is the clean energy economy.”
For her part, Johnson focused on her boss Steven Chu’s message that clean energy “is the industrial revolution of our time.” She praised Copenhagen-bound Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) as “visionary leaders who recognized early on that energy efficiency and renewable energy are critical building blocks for the green economy.” (Jackson also is heading to Copenhagen next week.)
Johnson, too, had her handy-dandy list of Obama administration expenditures, including more than $100 million to weatherize Oregon and Washington homes and a $4 billion investment in smart-grid research.
And the Energy Dept. has retooled its criteria for awarding small-business innovative research grants so that job creation counts as half of the criteria, up from one-third.
“We know that in the last five years or so, most of the jobs generated in America came from small business,” Johnson said. “We’re very proud of that. And as a former small business owner and someone who helped build an incubator in North Carolina, I know we can do this – in facilities just like this.”
The meeting by two high-ranking administration officials with two of the country’s greenest governors came as President Obama upped his comitment to the international climate talks. Obama moved back his planned visit from what looked to be an incidental stopover early in the negotiations on his way to pick up his Nobel Prize in Oslo. Instead, the leader of the free world will be in Copenhagen as the talks end Dec. 18. That doesn’t necessarily mean the negotiations will deliver anything more than had been expected – which isn’t much – but it does add a bit of drama to the situation and suggests Obama believes the conference will produce a meaningful agreement.
The speeches by Jackson and Johnson to a room full of businesspeople in dark suits were calculated to counteract the stiff opposition Republicans are offering in D.C. to various versions of legislation to implement a Cap’n Trade program.
Without mentioning the Republicans by name, Jackson recalled how they prevailed in passing an energy bill in George W. Bush’s first term.
“[W]e saw an energy plan for our country that was focused only on fossil fuels,” Jackson said.
“Supporters of the plan pledged that it would lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses and reduce our growing dependence on foreign oil. As we sit here today we know it didn’t work. It didn’t work for our security. It didn’t work for our environment and it certainly didn’t work for our businesses.”