Obama's 'green jobs handyman' ready to serve

Van Jones is an author, activist and agitator on environmental and human rights issues.

But when he starts a White House job next week, just don't call him the green jobs "czar."

The 40-year-old founder of Green for All -- a national organization dedicated to lifting people out of poverty through environmental jobs and innovation -- will start March 16 as an adviser to President Obama on green jobs, climate and energy initiatives (Greenwire, March 10). Working within the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, Jones will advance the president's agenda among the federal bureaucracy and the public.

He spoke with E&E today. The following are excerpts from the interview.

E&E: What will be your new role within CEQ, and why did you decide to join this administration?

Jones: The title is special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. ... As we begin to move toward a clean-energy economy, we have an opportunity to have equal opportunity from the very beginning, making sure all Americans can take part.

E&E: Will you also advocate the president's agenda among the public?

Jones: That's still in development. Part of my job description does have me available to advocate publicly, but I think we're going to be focusing primarily internally for the near term.


E&E: Do you consider yourself Obama's "green-jobs czar," as some have dubbed you?

Jones: No, I'm the green-jobs handyman. I'm there to serve. I'm there to help as a leader in the field of green jobs, which is a new field. I'm happy to come and serve and be helpful, but there's no such thing as a green-jobs "czar."

E&E: Some might call you a burgeoning eco-celebrity -- you scored a big profile in the New Yorker and loud applause at Vice President Biden's recent jobs summit in Philadelphia -- do you have political aspirations of your own?

Jones: No, I don't. I am passionate about having people applaud the results and not the rhetoric. That's the next stage. ... We're into a "show" more than "tell" time, and that's what I want to see. The administration is committed to seeing people who don't have jobs right now getting jobs. That's where all of the applause needs to be directed.

E&E: You've advocated "greening the ghetto" in the past; how much of the $787 billion economic stimulus will go toward greening inner cities, and where will the money go?

Jones: HUD has somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion to do energy-efficiency retrofits and weatherization. I know [HUD] Secretary [Shaun] Donovan is going to be passionate about getting that money spent well. But I'm not in a position now to comment on all of the details, the particulars of how the various agencies are planning to spend the money.

E&E: A Rutgers University report published today suggests that most green job openings will not be new occupations, but rather traditional occupations with a new layer of "green" skills and credentials. For example, laborers and building contractors who need specialized training and certification to perform home weatherization audits. Do you agree?

Jones: Yes. That's one of the exciting things about this. Sometimes people think we're talking about some exotic occupation from Mars that nobody's ever heard of. That we're talking about George Jetson or Buck Rogers when we're thinking about green jobs. We're not talking about solar ray-guns; we're talking about caulking guns as one of the major tools we're going to need to be smarter with energy. Those are jobs our existing work force, with a little training, can start doing right away.

E&E: Going forward, what role should the private sector play with regard to creating and keeping green-collar jobs?

Jones: The president has made very clear that he wants the majority of these jobs to be private-sector jobs. I think that's appropriate. Entrepreneurship, innovation and the free market will solve a lot of these problems. We just have to get the rules right and get the supports in place so our new industries can take off.

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