Why Obama is Right on the Money with His (Green) Jobs Speech

Tonight President Obama laid out a comprehensive plan for getting more Americans back on the job. Unlike Republican leaders in Congress, the president did not try to use the economic crisis as an excuse to destroy bedrock environmental safeguards or to continue to subsidize big oil companies.

Instead, he recognizes that we can put Americans back to work and protect our health at the same time. The president said:

I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury… We shouldn't be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top.

The president also highlighted two potent opportunities for creating jobs: smart infrastructure and clean technologies like fuel-efficient cars. By investing in these building blocks of 21st century competitiveness and growth, we can put Americans to work today and create a more prosperous future.

Obama is wise to single out innovation as an effective job creator. Neither renewable power nor advanced vehicles were widely available 10 years ago. Now, thanks to technological leaps, the clean energy industry grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy between 2003 and 2010. Now almost 90,000 Americans make their living building wind turbines, and more than 150,000 Americans have jobs assembling clean cars such as hybrids.

Green jobs were woven throughout the president's plan. The men and women who will build the public transit systems that Obama called for -- things like bus rapid transit routes, hybrid buses, and fast trains -- will be performing work that benefits the environment and the economy at the same time.

I find it encouraging that President Obama presented a real jobs plan. The GOP leadership has offered nothing but a pollution plan: The so-called jobs memo released by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week centered on a list of environmental safeguards the party wants to abolish. That agenda will create dirtier skies, but it won't put Americans back to work.

President Obama in contrast has called for state-of-the-art infrastructure that will actually employ people. The White House understands that some projects create more jobs than others. Data from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act confirms that investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs as investing in highways and roads.

Several of proposals Obama mentioned tonight will be especially effective at unleashing private investment, which is what leads to job growth. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, for instance, already has a track record of leveraging limited public funding to draw private dollars off the sidelines and back into the economy -- yielding 10 or more times as much investment per taxpayer dollar.

Expanding that program and launching a similarly effective National Infrastructure Bank will attract even more private investment. And if federal grants include performance-based standards for things like reducing oil use, saving commuters money, and cleaning up the air, then these projects -- and the jobs they create -- will generate long-lasting benefits for the nation.

Tonight the president called on us to imagine if previous generations had failed to invest in the railroads and highways that connected our nation or the research institutions that gave us the Internet and other technological breakthroughs.

Making America stronger and more competitive should not be a partisan issue: it is shared effort of Republicans and Democrats alike. Our leaders must put aside their political battles in the interest of putting Americans to work.

By promoting clean energy innovation and by modernizing our nation's infrastructure, we can put Americans to work now and create prosperity for years to come.

Visit NRDCs Switchboard Blog

This article originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard Blog, and is reprinted with permission.