Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2009 Earth Day is special, says green jobs czar

A former Oakland activist now serving as President Barack Obama's "green jobs czar" said this week's Earth Day observance is special because of the new administration.

"As we move forward, one of the big differences is that we recognize now that the debate over whether we can do right by the environment and right by the economy at the same time is over," said Van Jones, appointed in March as special adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"This Earth Day is for everybody "... for those of us who are concerned about the natural world in the traditional sense, but also for laid-off workers," he said, as well as for home and business owners who could save on energy costs through weatherization and energy-efficiency measures, and for entrepreneurs who can capitalize on economic-recovery funds to provide those services.

Jones' conference call with reporters Tuesday was part of his first big media blitz since he left Oakland for Washington, D.C., last month; he was on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Monday night.

Jones, 40, until last month was CEO of Green For All, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization he founded to promote green-collar jobs and opportunities for the disadvantaged; his recent book, "The Green Collar Economy" made The New York Times nonfiction hardcover best-seller list. Earlier, he cofounded and was the longtime executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human AdvertisementRights, now based in Oakland, which deals with issues such as juvenile justice reform, police reform and youth-violence prevention.

In his current post, he's charged with helping to shape and implement job-generating climate policy; working to ensure equal protection and equal opportunity in the administration's climate and energy proposals; and publicly advocating the Obama administration's environmental and energy agenda.

There's more to celebrate this Earth Day, Jones said, and more reason to recommit to environmental protection and economic growth.

"All across the country now, you're seeing people begin to get the actual benefits of the recovery package," he said, citing a Kansas City, Mo., project in which $200 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money has been dedicated to retrofitting and weatherizing 150 blocks of blighted, low-income neighborhoods.

Such an initiative creates jobs, lowers residents' energy costs, improves property values and is good for the environment, he said: "They're calling it a 'Green Impact Zone' "... showing you can fight pollution and poverty at the same time."

"There's a wingspan on these jobs that goes from the GEDs to the Ph.D.s," he added, noting that finding ways to save energy is as important as finding new, cleaner ways to generate it. "Caulking guns are an equally important part of the agenda "... as are solar panels."

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