Um, About Those Green Jobs, Mr. President...

September 2, 2011

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It was a great success story of President Obama’s efforts to stimulate green jobs. Nearly $2 billion of your taxpayer dollars were spent to manufacture parts, including blades, for wind turbines for a wind farm in Texas. The project created over 2,000 jobs.

Great. Raise the "Mission Accomplished" banner. That’s how it was supposed to work.
Only problem is, if you want to get technical and picky about it all, 80 percent of $2 billion went to manufacturers overseas, particularly China. That’s right -- you paid $1.6 billion to create jobs overseas. Meanwhile, at the same time the Chinese were getting your money from the Obama Administration to build the blades, employees of a Pennsylvania-based wind turbine blade factory were getting laid off.Wait -- was that what President Obama meant when he promised the creation of green jobs? That he’d create 80 percent of them in China? We don’t remember that particular speech. We’re Realists. They All Do It.

Look, we’re realists. We know that political candidates of all stripe, persuasion and inclination promise a whole lot of hokum to get elected. Liberals do it, conservatives do it, Democrats do it, Republicans do it, birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.

President Barack Obama is no different. From promising to end American involvement in the Iraq War and to close the Guantanamo detention center, to promising to toughen rules on lobbyists to promising an open, transparent administration and that no family making less than $250,000 a year would see any tax increase, his is the usual litany of broken promises. Campaigning is, in fact, much easier than governing.

And it’s not like the administration has singled out green jobs to exempt from its promises to create jobs. Remember that huge trillion-dollar stimulus package President Obama wanted in early 2009, promising it would bring unemployment down, and threatening that if we didn’t spend the money that unemployment would spike? We passed it and unemployment spiked.

Still, by any standard, President Obama’s performance on his green jobs promise has been a rather significantly underwhelming.

The Promise: Five Million Green Jobs

If it was a one-off promise, well, that would be understandable. We all do that. But Candidate Obama repeatedly promised green jobs, green jobs and more green jobs from the stump. A typical quote: “We'll invest $15 billion a year over the next decade in renewable energy, creating five million new green jobs that pay well, can't be outsourced and help end our dependence on foreign oil.”

To be fair, Republican candidate John McCain also promised “millions” of green jobs. But that’s what happens when you win -- you’re the one who’s on the clock.

So there’s the benchmark: Five million new jobs over “the next decade.” One-third of that decade is gone. One can reasonably expect about a million green jobs, yes? How has it gone?

It’s gone pretty green jobless, that’s how it’s gone. The most Obama-adoring media denizens -- hardly an endangered species -- are contorting themselves in ways Zlata would be proud of, trying to put something resembling lipstick on the pig. Typical is PolitiFact using the administration’s own P.R. “estimates” of 225,000 green jobs created so far, and classifying President Obama's promise of 5 million green jobs "in the works."

Bearing in mind that that’s the wildest exaggeration possible, the reality is a fraction of that. So what happened?

Then That Whole Economy Thing HappenedWell, there was that whole economy thing. The government doesn’t want to be seen subsidizing money-losing green jobs when there are plenty of people without real jobs. Granted the president couldn’t have foreseen that the economy would be as bad as it is.
One can also note that the economy wasn’t great when he took over, and that he touted his trillion-dollar stimulus package as a way to reduce unemployment, so let’s call that one even: Yes the economy’s tough, but he was elected because he promised us he knew what to do about that.Then there’s the real-world experience of green jobs out there for all to see. Just as we have Russia to thank for warning the rest of us off large-scale communism, we have Spain to thank for warning the rest of us off large-scale government efforts to pump air into the green jobs sector.

As ThomasNet noted in June, in 2009, Madrid’s Universidad Rey Juan Carlos published a paper titled “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources,” prepared under research director Dr. Gabriel Calzada Álvarez. It’s from as academically respected a source as you’re likely to get for this sort of thing, and presents chart after table after graph of numbers and official statistics, footnoting everything in sight — in other words, probably as reliable as we’ll get.

President Obama himself even cited specifically to Spain’s example. On January 16th, 2009, the president-elect visited an Ohio business that manufactures components for wind power generators, where he said “And think of what’s happening in countries like Spain, Germany and Japan, where they’re making real investments in renewable energy. They’re surging ahead of us, poised to take the lead in these new industries.”

He doesn’t talk much about the Spanish example anymore, since as the 2009 study found, since 2000, Spain spent €571,138 to create each “green job,” including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind industry job. And the programs creating those jobs “resulted in the destruction of nearly 110,500 jobs elsewhere in the economy, or 2.2 jobs destroyed for every green job created... These costs do not appear to be unique to Spain’s approach but instead are largely inherent in schemes to promote renewable energy sources.”

But Surely Green Jobs Would Succeed In Seattle?Okay, so let’s not take that route. You’d think the media would have done a bit of digging into the success of green jobs in general when candidate Barack Obama was promising millions of them, but they were far too busy trying to ascertain just how many times Sarah Palin’s fourth-grade teacher had to reprimand her in class to dig into Obama’s claims.

But certainly the Obama administration did... something? Oh mais oui. And in the environmental movement’s sweet spot, too.

There are few places in America more reliably liberal and crunchy-green than the Pacific Northwest, particuarly Seattle. Maybe Nancy Pelosi’s living room or Chris Matthews's dinner parties, but that’s about it. Locating a green jobs program here is like locating a sports bar in Pittsburgh: It's a total no-brainer. So it probably wasn’t a surprise when the Obama Administration placed a honey of a green jobs program there: a $20 million federal grant in 2010 to weatherize homes.

According to the dyed-in-the-wool leftist Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the goals of the program were to create 2,000 jobs and retrofit 2,000 homes. Yet on August 15, 2011, the Post-Intelligencer reported that the green jobs program was a “bust.”

But Those Three Homes Are Grateful.How busty? Jayne Mansfield busty. JaMarcus Russell busty: “As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed for low-income workers.”

And that’s Obama’s core constituency, the mainstream media, telling the truth about his dismal green jobs failures. His detractors have been somewhat less circumspect.

Investors.com reported a couple weeks ago that Obama “toured to much fanfare a Johnson Controls plant in Michigan where $300 million in conservation grants produced 150 jobs -- at a cost of $2 million per position.” It noted Evergreen Solar, the Massachusetts company the White House gave a lot of your tax money to via “stimulus,” just filed for bankruptcy with $485.6 million in debt and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Even that most loyal of Democratic Party foot soldiers, The New York Times, who last endorsed a Republican for president in the 1950s and which, touchingly, refers to the Brookings Institution as “non-partisan,” is starting to, ahem, point out that the administration is not delivering on its green job promises.

“Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development,” the Times reports.

Not a great return on investment by any standard.

But even those meager returns could look better if the money you, Joe and Josephine Taxpayer, kicked in had actually gone to other Americans. According to an ABC News report in early 2010, close to 80 percent of the stimulus dollars for wind power were spent on jobs and manufactured products outside of the United States, mostly benefiting Chinese workers.

They thank you, and wish you good luck in your job hunt.

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