State should lay groundwork for federal "Green Corps" funding (Asbury Park Press)

By JAMES J. FLORIO

Shortly before I left the governor's office in 1994, I made the economic case for a new effort in New Jersey to promote environmental technology as a means to both clean up our state and to create thousands of well-paying jobs for our young people. More than a decade later, our state appears poised to take advantage of the emerging "green collar" economy that is beginning to take hold across the nation.

Evidence of this promising economy is everywhere:

Recently, Public Service Electric & Gas Co. unveiled a $5 million carbon abatement program designed not just to help low-income residents and businesses in Trenton and Newark become more energy efficient, but to train the workers to undertake that initiative as well.

A new consortium of solar installers, calling itself "NJ Chooses Solar" has been established to promote a system in our state that will provide both the financial incentives and the trained personnel to harness the sun's power.

Wall Street is beginning to take notice of a little-known East Hanover firm called Comverge, which has quietly become the largest demand-response company in the nation.

A new enterprise is taking place in Perth Amboy under the banner of Converted Organics. It will take New Jersey's organic waste, which is being deposited in our landfills, and turn it into usable organic fertilizer for our lawns and gardens. Not a single cubic yard of fertilizer has yet to be manufactured, yet much of the Converted Organics product for the coming year has already been spoken for.

New Jersey policymakers and regulators are doing what they can to add fuel to the environmental and energy job creation engine that is chugging along in our state. But nothing will do more to advance that progress than passage of an amendment sponsored by Sens. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., that has been incorporated into the federal energy bill signed into law by President Bush.

The Sanders-Clinton Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Workforce Development Amendment will create a national energy worker program that "provides quality training for jobs created through renewable energy and energy-efficiency initiatives; satisfies industry demand for a skilled work force; provides grants for safety, health and skills training; funds national and state research, labor market information and labor exchange programs, and develops national and state training programs."

The "Green Corps" program created by the Sanders-Clinton amendment would target veterans, workers displaced by economic globalization, urban youth and low-income workers seeking pathways out of poverty and into economic self-sufficiency, and individuals in need of updated training.

Industries eligible for training services under the program include energy-efficient building, construction and retrofits, renewable electric power, advanced automotive drive trains, bio-fuels and the deconstruction and materials use industries.

The program is infinitely affordable. The Sanders-Clinton amendment would authorize up to $40 million per year in grants on a competitive basis under a National Training Partnerships program and up to $40 million per year in grants to states to implement labor exchange and training programs.

Preference would be given to states that show leadership in promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. New Jersey should begin working today to assure it would be at the top of that preference list.

It is predicted that this small amount of federal funding would be sufficient to train between 20,000 and 30,000 workers per year.

Nothing will stall the global warming response in America more quickly than the lack of trained personnel to do the work. Just last year, a study by the National Renewable Energy Lab identified the shortage of skills and training as a leading barrier to renewable energy and energy efficiency growth in our nation. That study identified a number of critical training needs, including lack of reliable installation, maintenance and inspection services, the shortage of key technical and manufacturing skills and failure of the educational system to provide adequate training in new technologies. On top of that, the American Public Power Association, in a recent assessment, has predicted that half of our nation's current utility workers will retire within the next decade.

There is great hope for America and New Jersey's energy future. Some have predicted that by 2025, alternative clean energy technologies could provide electric power equal to half of the amount our nation currently uses. Just five years later, these industries could replace 30 to 40 percent of the amount of petroleum currently imported. In the process, we will have created 5 million good-paying jobs.

Rarely in the world of public policy are you confronted with what amounts to a political no-brainer. The Sanders-Clinton amendment appears to be such a prospect. It is a measured affordable response that will pay huge dividends in the years ahead. We should all embrace its passage.