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PI.com: Where are the Green Jobs?

By Josh Feit August 16, 2011

I missed this PI.com story yesterday: PI reporter Venessa Ho checked in on the $20 million federal grant Seattle won last year to fund weatherization jobs—2,000 jobs, Mayor Mike McGinn hoped.

A year in to the grant: 14 jobs.

The PI reports:
Last year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced the city had won a coveted $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization. The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy – able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint – and the announcement came with great fanfare.

McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.

But more than a year later, Seattle's numbers are lackluster. 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 of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

"The jobs haven't surfaced yet," said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.

The reason I noticed the story today is because the Washington Policy Center, the local conservative think tank, capitalized on the news and did an email blast about it, adding a harsh dig: Green advocates for the program blame the recession on the underwhelming results, but as WPC points out, green advocates such as McGinn argued at the time that recession was reason to do the program.

In their post titled "Eco-giddiness"  vs. Sound Policy, they write:
But just last year, when announcing the Seattle Jobs Plan, Mayor McGinn invoked the poor economy as a reason to support his initiative.  He told the audience at the press conference that “We know how bad the economy is.  It's the worst recession since the Great Depression. We're going to have to do what we can locally to prepare for the future, to make hard choices.”

We should not ignore the dramatic shift in the arguments used by supporters of weatherization stimulus programs.  Instead, we need to hold policymakers accountable for the results they promised.

We have a message in to Mayor McGinn.

Joshua Curtis, who's managing the grant for the city out of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, says while the grant was announced a year ago, it's been all behind the scenes design work, until about four months ago when they rolled out the effort to weatherize single family homes.

"We're gearing up for an active fall," he says referring to the fact that they've got nearly 400 homes queued up to match up with 13 contractors in the $10 million single family homes half of the grant. (The weatherization efforts, he notes, will increase energy efficiency "by at least 15 percent.")

The other half of the project, $10 million for weatherizing hospitals, large commercial buildings, small businesses, and multifamily homes, is underway with a Washington Athletic Club $1 million retrofit project in the queue. He says they are set to hire two or three workers from the Washington Vocational Institute for that work, which will begin in September.

And, Curtis says, there is also $10 million worth of work lined up (with $500,000 from the city's grant) for energy efficiency projects at Virginia Mason, Harborview, Swedish, and Group Health.
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