The Obama administration is using Earth Day for launching another all-out effort to sell the American public and key lawmakers on "green jobs" as the solution for the United States' environmental and economic woes.
The jobs push starts at a critical time for the administration's energy agenda. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is starting hearings on a comprehensive climate and energy bill that President Obama has long portrayed as key to his efforts toward economic recovery (see related story).
The administration must also try in the next few weeks to push through Congress a budget resolution that raises spending in several energy-related areas, again with the promise of creating millions of new jobs in the renewable-energy arena.
It has become increasingly clear that the administration's central theme -- not to mention its pitch to key lawmakers -- is that energy-related legislative priorities are based not only on environmental merits but on their ability to create jobs.
Both Obama's allies and his critics say such a message is aimed at broadening the constituency for such initiatives -- rallying the traditional "green" vote as well as blue-collar workers and the U.S. manufacturing base.
"This is the kind of 'for everybody Earth Day agenda' that the Obama administration stands for," White House Council on Environmental Quality adviser Van Jones said yesterday. "There's a wingspan on these jobs goes from GED to Ph.D."
Jones added, "The administration is committed that green jobs be good jobs, and there's a strong commitment to make sure that it actually happens."
The success of the pitch could be pivotal in moving a House cap-and-trade bill that has taken hits in recent weeks. The administration and Democratic leaders in Congress still insist they can pass the bill by the end of the year.
But recent efforts to move a climate bill through the budget process hit a brick wall of opposition, and even a number of Democrats -- particularly from Midwestern states -- have started to express concerns over the legislation's impact on their states' economies.
The administration and various interest groups see the promise of increased jobs spurred by the implementation of a carbon cap and increased incentives for renewable energy as the primary way of addressing such criticism, and a number of environmental groups have already launched campaigns that sound very much like the administration's pitch on a "green economy."
Obama visits turbine plant
Obama himself will deliver the green jobs message later this afternoon in Iowa. The president is scheduled to tour a former Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa, that is now manufactures towers for wind energy. The Maytag plant closed in 2007 but reopened about a year later as a $21 million Trinity Structural Towers plant that employs about 150 workers.
Obama will give a speech at the plant that the White House says will lay out the administration's energy agenda, primarily with a focus on green jobs and reduced oil dependence.
Jones yesterday described the visit as another cog in the administration's goal of reaching out to parts of the country that traditionally have not been at the forefront of most environmental debates.
"I think normally you would not expect the president of the United States to spend Earth Day standing in a closed plant in Iowa," Jones said. "You will see a manufacturing hub that was part of the last century's economy coming back as a manufacturing hub of the next century's economy."
It will also be Obama's first visit since Inauguration Day to the state that in many ways launched his political career by delivering a somewhat unexpected caucus victory in the Democratic presidential primaries.
But the administration's push today will stretch beyond Obama's visit to Iowa.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wrote editorials that will run in newspapers in Alabama, Colorado, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas that tout the the administration's "green jobs" agenda.
"This focus on jump-starting the creation of an American clean energy sector will be the foundation of the president's energy policy," they wrote. "With the depletion of the world's oil reserves and the growing disruption of our climate, the development of clean, renewable sources of energy is the growth industry of the 21st century."
Chu, along with U.S. EPA Administration Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, testified on Capitol Hill today at the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on climate change, and the three also built their statements around the benefits of a "green" jobs economy.
And Vice President Joe Biden announced the funding of $300 million through the economic stimulus bill for state and local governments and transit authorities to expand the use of alternative-fueled vehicles (see related story).