The Insanity of It All

Last month, I wrote that President Obama has begun referring to his administration’s green jobs record, although I didn’t expect him to hammer that topic very hard, given his administration’s poor record. I was wrong. A recent campaign advertisement intimates that 2.7 million green jobs were created during his tenure and the numbers are “expanding rapidly.” I debunked the 2.7 million green jobs statistic in the last issue of COAL POWER.

In summary, the source of that statistic is a Brookings Institution report that swept up any jobs that were even remotely related to  “the clean economy.” As I reported earlier, the 2.7 million job figure includes 130,000 jobs in organic food and farming, 350,000 jobs in public mass transit, 386,000 jobs in waste management and treatment, and 142,000 jobs in regulation and compliance. More useful job numbers were also provided with estimates of those directly involved with renewable projects: 24,000 jobs in wind, 5,400 jobs in solar photovoltaic, and 2,700 jobs in geothermal.

It’s very important to note that the Brookings report does not make any claims that President Obama’s administration was responsible for what Brookings calls the existing “Clean Economy.” In fact, a substantial majority of those jobs, by any other name, were part of the economy when the president took office. That campaign video fails to make that distinction clear to viewers.

Statistical Piling On

However, there is other data available that does pinpoint the administration’s experience with green job development. The Department of Labor (DOL) has been working its “Turning Green to Gold, Safely” campaign to “prepare the workforce for high growth fields while building a greener plant.” Overall, the administration set aside $500 million in green job training grants. So how successful has that program been finding green jobs in our “rapidly expanding” clean economy over the past two years?

Not so good, as the inspector general of the DOL recently pointed out. It seems that the administration has reached just 10% of its goals of training 124,893 people and placing 79,854 people in actual green jobs.

The definition of a green job, as defined by the DOL, is “jobs associated with products and services that use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, and conserve natural resources.” The DOL awarded a total of $490.1 million: $435.4 million for three training programs, $48.9 million for labor market information, and $5.8 million to develop capacity for training programs. The report noted that $162.8 million or about 33% of the grants has been spent, as of June 30, 2011.

The DOL’s inspector general report went on to note, “with 61 percent of the training grant periods elapsed and only 10 percent of participants entered employment, there is no evidence that grantees will effectively use the funds and deliver targeted employment outcomes by the end of the grant periods.”

The report, produced 17 months after the program began, found that only 52,762 people were trained and that 8,034 were actually placed in jobs. The inspector general’s recommendation was: “Any of the remaining $327.3 million of funds determined not to be needed should be recouped as soon as practicable and to the extent permitted by law so they can be available for other purposes.”

The assistant secretary for employment and training predictably disagreed with the inspector general’s report, noting that “all of the funds will be expended [or recouped] by September 30, 2013” while blaming the poor economy for the underperformance of the programs. Ironically, the original justification for the program was to kick-start the sagging economy with all these new green jobs. You can’t have it both ways.

States Pick up Green Jobs Mantra

The Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) followed the same flawed approach to estimating green jobs in its March 19 report that estimates about 508,000 green jobs are now present in the Pacific Northwest (the Brooking report estimated 450,000 existing jobs). The PCC suggests that by following its new plan that the number of green jobs could grow to 1.5 million by 2020, “if policies stay on track and strengthen.” The PCC members are British Columbia, Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington. In essence, it’s a stimulus Mini-Me.

The suggested policies rely on massive public investments, such as upgrading public buildings to improved levels of energy efficiency. Other suggestions: “drive job creation by expanding efforts of the public sector to lead by example in adopting energy efficiency technologies and practices” and “advance and promote world-class building, appliance, and equipment standards.” My favorite suggestion for creating jobs is under the category of “accelerate regional job creation by leveraging clean transportation” by building a “green highway from Baja California to British Columbia.” The group fails to suggest what possible advantage building this new highway will provide to the public, which is ultimately responsible for paying the cost of construction.

There are no estimates of the capital costs of the grand plans in the report, only that public money would finance the projects that will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The PCC has taken a page from the Washington playbook about how these four states and the province of British Columbia will finance these boondoggles: significantly increase government spending, which means significant increase in taxes. Just like the federal stimulus program, the economy is supposed to respond and grow, allowing for additional taxes to pay for the projects. I have no idea how California intends to find the money to pay for these programs given its already high taxes and persistently slumping economy unless it heads to Washington, D.C., with hat in hand.

Hidden in the back of the report is another surprise policy requirement, and perhaps the primary approach that the PCC believes can be used to raise the needed revenue. The PCC suggests, “Taking into account the full cost of carbon is key to driving clean energy innovation.” That’s political double-speak for taxing carbon emissions, another tax that merely encourages increased government spending. We’ve already seen that approach doesn’t work with the recent raids on carbon allowance funds by several members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative when budgets got tight.

You’ve heard the aphorism that goes, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” The poor results of the stimulus program have proven over and again that increased government spending produces only a fraction of promised jobs of any color, and those jobs exist as long as government spending continues. Yet, the government addiction to spending continues, ignoring poor reported results. The spending cycle seems unbreakable.

Ironically, the first publication that I could find of that quote was in Step Two of the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous.

—Dr. Robert Peltier, PE, is COAL POWER’s editor-in-chief.

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