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America’s ‘Green’ Jobs Revelation

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, The Wall Street Journal

America can boast only 500 green jobs in solar electric power generation, but 886,000 green jobs in government — many for passage of environmental laws, enforcement of environmental regulations, and administration of environmental programs, according to the new count of green jobs for 2011 released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this week.

The new report shows that the number of green jobs in the economy grew from 3.2 million in 2010, the first year of data collected, to 3.4 million in 2011. That’s an increase of one-tenth of a percent of the nation’s jobs, from 2.5% to 2.6%.

BLS is responsible for the federal definition of green jobs under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Act incorporated the Green Jobs Act as Title X, sponsored by then-Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat. Solis became secretary of Labor in 2009, and was charged with implementing her legislation.

Now that Solis has resigned, and the budget sequester is in place, BLS is discontinuing the survey, saving $8 million.

President Barack Obama called for the creation of 5 million green jobs over the next decade in his 2008 campaign. Most recently, in his State of the Union Address, the president reiterated his support, saying “Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that.”

The Obama administration then proceeded to give out grants and guaranteed loans for green-energy projects to try to make his dream into reality. Alternative energy grants, loans, and tax breaks cost the economy about $12 billion in 2012.

When people hear of green jobs, they think workers are making wind and solar power, and electric cars and batteries. But few Americans are employed in these sectors.

In addition to the 500 jobs in solar electric power generation, biomass and geothermal electric generation each accounted for 1,000 jobs, and wind electric power generation employed 3,000 Americans. These are all dwarfed by nuclear power, at 44,000, even though nuclear power is no favorite of environmentalists.

In contrast, the number of jobs in oil and gas extraction increased from 159,000 in 2010 to 172,000 in 2011.

The largest increase in green jobs came from the construction industry, which added 102,000 jobs, mostly through relabeling. As more construction materials are categorized as energy efficient, the jobs of those who install them turn green.

For instance, BLS counts construction workers who install energy efficient windows as having green jobs, but not those who put in regular windows. Plumbers who install “Lo-Flo” toilets have green jobs, but not plumbers who put in regular fixtures.

The largest number of green jobs, 886,000, or 26% of total, are in the federal, state, and local governments. This is a decline of 15,000 from 2010, when government was responsible for 28% of green jobs. It takes a quarter of the green jobs work force to pass green jobs laws, write the regulations, and enforce them.

For instance, Gregory Friedman, inspector general of the Energy Department, has a green job and a staff of green employees. Last month he wrote a report describing the misuse of a $150 million grant awarded to LG Chem, a South Korean-owned battery manufacturer in Holland, Mich. LG Chem was supposed to create 440 green jobs and make enough batteries to run 60,000 electric cars by December 2013.

But LG Chem’s employees weren’t green. According to Friedman, “we confirmed that employees spent time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies during regular working hours.” LG Chem, meanwhile, sold to U.S. firms batteries made in South Korea. That’s money from Uncle Sam for green jobs in Asia.

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