The government’s support for green jobs thus has less to do with the rationale behind these programs than with the political influence of the groups that support them. As we point out in The New Leviathan, despite being inefficient and economically damaging, the green jobs campaign has found a powerful constituency in the United States: an alliance of environmental groups and government labor unions. While they may not seem like obvious allies, green jobs provide a powerful common cause. Environmental groups hope to win government funding for the green causes they have long championed, while unions know that a massive new government-subsidized green industry would open the door to more government unionization. Allied through mutual convenience, these groups have formed influential coalitions to push green jobs into the political arena.
One such coalition is the Blue Green Alliance. Launched in 2006 by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, the 14 million-member coalition includes leading environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation, and 10 of the country’s largest government unions, among them the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Communications Workers of America, the American Federation of Teachers, the United Auto Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association. In 2009 the Blue Green Alliance spent $1.5 million lobbying for agendas like green jobs, a figure that surged to almost $2.5 million in 2010. Thanks to such lobbying efforts, what might have remained a marginal cause was thrust into the mainstream.
The advocacy campaign for green jobs resonated with the Obama administration thanks to another group that linked the green jobs agenda of the environmental movement with the Obama White House. In 2007, environmental activist and self-described communist Anthony “Van” Jones founded the Oakland, California-based Green for All. Supported by mega-rich funders like the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Family Fund, and by environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the group lobbied to “build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty” by “creating millions of quality jobs and careers.”
For Democrats at least, that sales pitch proved seductive. Green for All’s lobbying efforts had a decisive impact on environmental policy as soon as the Democratic Party achieved control of the U.S. Senate and House in the elections of 2006. The following year, Green for All helped to pass the Green Jobs Act, which authorized $125 million annually to train workers for employment in a variety of so-called green industries. The group’s next major coup came in March 2009, when President Obama brought Van Jones into the White House and made him his “green jobs czar.”
Because of his extreme views, which he was careful to cloak, Van Jones’s tenure at the White House proved controversial and short-lived. But he left a permanent mark on the U.S. economy when the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats muscled through the stimulus bill, and with it the $70 billion taxpayer subsidies to create the green economy and green jobs whose virtues Van Jones had preached. Unfortunately, as the latest jobs numbers attest, the payoff for that ideology-driven investment remains as elusive as ever.
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