WorkingNation’s Green Jobs Now series is looking at green jobs opportunities and the skills needed to get those jobs across the country with a series of state-by-state reports and is republished with permission. This week: Indiana.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Now, according to the ruling, the EPA must get specific directions from the U.S. Congress on how to regulation those emissions.
Annually, the Hoosier State is among the top 10 coal-producing states in the nation and the Indiana attorney general was among the 19 who challenged the EPA’s authority.
Environmental leaders in the state say the Supreme Court ruling will not stop their efforts to push the state toward alternate energy sources.
"It will not deter our work to train the next generation of climate leaders here in Indiana," says Danni Schaust, resilience implementation manager at the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University. The university runs the McKinney Climate Fellows (MCF) program for undergraduate and graduate students focused on climate, sustainability and community resilience.
"Our McKinney Climate Fellows will continue to move forward tirelessly with their critical work," said Schaust. "Working alongside our valued public and private sector partners, tackling the impacts of a changing climate head-on."
"I think it’s too early to tell what, if any, impact the ruling may have," said Ryan Hadley, executive director of the Indiana Office of Energy Development, when asked how the opinion might affect green jobs creation in his state. "Indiana will continue to see growth in green-related jobs, especially as we consider the transformation of Indiana’s electric generation portfolio. Over the last decade, Indiana has grown its wind generation output from virtually zero in 2008 to 6.5 percent percent in 2020."
Hadley references a 2020 report commissioned by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission as part of a comprehensive energy study. At the time, the report said, "This expected expansion in alternative energy sources will generate new jobs that will partially offset the job losses associated with coal-fired plant closures, although there is some uncertainty surrounding the potential size of these impacts."
The report continued, "The state’s investor-owned electricity producers expect that Indiana’s combined generation capacity of wind, solar, and natural gas energy will expand by an estimated 5,850 megawatts between 2023 and 2030."
Green jobs growth in the Hoosier State
"Workers with green skills are also spreading across a wide range of industries — such as utilities, manufacturing, and professional services — illustrating the increasing need for green skills across Indiana’s economy," according to Green Jobs Now: Indiana, a WorkingNation and Lightcast analysis of the green labor market in the state.
Findings estimate over 11,678 workers in Indiana’s green economy. The report projects in the next five years, employment for green jobs in the state will increase by 29.2 percent, well above national average of 5.7 percent.
The report finds 1,146,364 workers in Indiana who, with new skills, could be green workers. "These workers come from a variety of occupations and educational backgrounds and reskilling them could build the pipeline of green workers faster than relying on new postsecondary graduates alone. However, doing so will require a mix of training program formats that support the reskilling and redeployment of these workers."
The most in-demand skills related to the green economy in Indiana include energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy knowledge.
Fighting the good fight
"While Indiana is not thought of by most folks as environmentally forward thinking, I know firsthand the progress that is being made every day by hardworking Hoosiers committed to tackling the climate crisis," said Schaust of the Environmental Resilience Institute.
"My main focus is on the McKinney Climate Fellows program and supporting students, businesses and nonprofits as they adapt to and address the climate crisis in Indiana and throughout the Midwest," she explained.
Schaust said the program fellows are primarily students from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. But she notes that fellows — who typically range from sophomores to third-year Ph.D. students — have included some studying geography, health care management and social work.
"We don’t limit ourselves to any particular major because we are dealing with a global crisis. We understand and acknowledge that we need everyone in this fight. And we need everyone thinking about, ‘How can I, in my career, address climate change?’"
"Throughout, we provide them mentorship, ongoing professional development, and once they finish the program, we actually continue to keep in touch with our alumni and help them prepare for job interviews, salary negotiation, networking, all of those really important professional skills that they may not be getting in the classroom or may not have time to really focus on in their academic studies."
Schaust said, "Our fellows receive not only professional training, but resources and access to tools that we believe make them more personally resilient to continue ‘fighting the good fight.’ We believe that a holistic approach is necessary to training the next generation of climate professionals — trainings such as how to deal with and manage climate emotions have become an integral part of the curriculum in recent years."
"Since this program launched in 2017, we have worked with close to 200 students, getting them trained in climate careers, getting them professional opportunities to apply their skills outside of the classroom. Around 35 percent to 40 percent of our graduates now work in climate careers across the United States," said Schaust.
But she points out that many fellows are becoming more locally focused in their career pursuits. "I’ve seen the conversation change from a federal government pipeline to ‘I want to work in a local community. I want to work here in my hometown of Lafayette, Indiana. I want to work with my local government or the nonprofits in the area to make sure we’re addressing food insecurity, to make sure that the community is aware of the climate change impacts we are going to see, and that we are prepared as a community to address those.’"
Core green jobs and second chances
As a professor of political science at University of Notre Dame, Patrick Regan wasn’t planning on becoming a small business owner. Life took a turn for Regan after he began teaching a class called Politics of Climate Change at Westville Correctional Facility.
"In the process of teaching in the prison, I learned that we all make mistakes and sometimes, otherwise, good people make colossally stupid mistakes," said Regan.
"In one class we were talking and one guy who’s all tattooed up said, ‘The problem is, professor, your people won’t hire me.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I bet I could fix that.’ I was old enough in the career of academia that I could take the gamble, quit my job, and see whether I could answer the question of whether we could hire them."
Regan knew he had to create an enterprise that had some lasting power. "I had to start a business that had longevity beyond me. I thought about climate change. I thought this is a no-brainer. Long after I’m burned out from this, solar will be instrumental in saving the planet. So, I decided to start Crossroads Solar, a solar panel manufacturing company."
After experimenting by building a solar panel in his own basement, Regan went to China in late 2019 to purchase an assembly line. He had even arranged for engineers from China to travel to Indiana in 2020 to help with the setup. With travel no longer feasible due to the pandemic, Regan recruited four engineering students from Notre Dame to receive virtual instruction from the Chinese engineers.
In the fall of 2021, the company started panel production to scale. Currently, Crossroads Solar has 12 employees.
"Everybody who works for me is a felon and it ranges from murder to bank robbery to drug-related stuff," noted Regan. "It’s allowed me to test some things about society and our ability to think about people differently. I always call this an experiment in forgiveness and reconciliation."
Regan, the company’s president and co-founder, is not only offering second chances to people with histories of incarceration, but his concerns regarding climate change also are strong. "Every one of us is going to have to stop burning fossil fuels in a way or in magnitudes that are so great, the only way we’re going to replace them is some alternative form energy."
Regan said solar is probably the best candidate for replacing the use of fossil fuels. "Might not be in 10 years. It might not be in five years. But today, it’s what we got. And if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels today, we’re going to be screwed."
However, he is quick to express his frustration over the state’s decision to phase down the credits for energy delivered back to the grid that have been previously afforded to people with solar panels. Those credits were reduced for solar systems installed — as of July 1 — by customers of an investor-owned utility. "We often mask the truth in an attempt to not infuriate, intimidate, or offend anybody. And with the climate we’ve got to offend," said Regan.
Where does your motor oil go?
Miller explains the business. "Every time you get your oil changed that oil gets drained out of that vehicle. It goes into a tank somewhere. There’s maybe 100,000 of these tanks throughout North America. Two things basically happen to it — it’s either burned as a fuel or it can be re-refined and made back into lubricants."
"Safety-Kleen is probably the largest collector of used motor oil as part of their collection business. We take that used motor oil — 230-plus million gallons a year — and run it through one of our refineries," he explained.
"You’ve seen oil come out of the cars [looking] black, right? When we’re done with it, it looks almost like water. That product is called a base oil. These base oils are blended with additives to make the motor oils that go in your car or semi-truck, or hydraulic oils, or any number of other types of lubricants in the market. So, that’s a recycled product."
"We have a closed loop process that, in theory, if you buy our lubricants and you use our use motor oil collection, it just goes round and round."
Safety-Kleen has eight facilities throughout North America with the largest being the East Chicago site.
Miller says he’s seen a change in recent years regarding environmental concern. "When I first started in this business 24 years ago, we tried to make the whole green concept. We tried to market it. We tried to sell our oil based on that. I’ll be honest with you. It was very limited in people’s interest. I’d say in the last four or five years, there’s been a big change, obviously, with carbon awareness now. It’s done a complete about face."
Based on a recent third-party study, Safety-Kleen’s re-refineries annually "avoid an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases — the equivalent of having 3.7 billion miles driven by gas-powered automobiles."
The study also found that the company’s "base oil achieved as much as a 78 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to base oil made via a traditional refining process on a per gallon basis."
Advancement and retention
Jimmy Bowers is a Safety-Kleen operator II — who began at the company in an entry-level job. "The entry-level position for the operations side is a third operator. They basically start with tank readings, sampling if needed, loading certain rail cars and trailers."
These days, Bowers said, "I oversee the everyday operation of the refinery. I deal with the re-refining of used oil through both processes of distillation and hydrogen."
He appreciates that he has been able to move up in the company. "I have a little bit of college education, but without a full degree. I see a lot of people advancing pretty rapidly throughout the company without having those degrees and they’re successful in doing so. That made me want to stick around."
He noted that the company helps people advance. "We do on-the-job training. You are set up with somebody with some experience. They’ll walk you through the process of rounds every two hours. That’s when you’ll collect your numbers, check all your tanks, make sure everything’s OK."
Bowers said, at first, he was a bit ignorant about the company’s environmental impact. "[The company is] good about letting us know exactly where our product starts, where it goes, how we’re green, the steps we’re taking to be green, it’s safe. Seeing that, not only are we taking environmental impact off the world, but also our customers are also taking environmental impact off the world."
Local government addressing climate issues
"We have a real focus on helping local governments and communities adapt to the climate crisis," said Indiana University’s Schaust.
She said through the Resilience Cohort, launched in 2019, "we’re doing our best to help local governments catch up, get their communities involved, and start to get folks preparing for what’s coming."
Schaust explained, "We provide, through the Resilience Cohort program, ongoing training on how to do these different skills, how to really crunch this data, look at realistic projections for different climate adaptation strategies, and help them build a plan that they can then carry forward. We provide a lot of support to our local government partners to get that in-house training, but also to help them start to make the case that there is a need to bring in additional staff."
One cohort member is Huntington, in northeast Indiana. "Being part of the Resilience Cohort has been great for us because you get a chance to see how other cities and other leaders are navigating these things, as well as being introduced to subject matter experts and trainings that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise," says Mayor Richard Strick.
He is eager to give credit to some of the fellows from Indiana University. "We’ve had several that have come through to help with different aspects of this. With a greenhouse gas equivalent emissions survey. Now working on what’s known as a climate action plan. Also an intern that’s working with us on tree canopy and growth in our tree canopy."
Strick noted, "Here in Indiana, we’re anticipating more high heat days and more intense rainfall. Storm water runoff and flooding comes from that. Then the question became, ‘OK, what are additional steps we can take to better position ourselves?’"
"When we talk about what we might call the green sector jobs or adapting to these things with climate resiliency — really, we’re talking about just the next stage, the next evolution of the economy," said Strick. "When it comes to thinking about jobs, especially as they relate to this sector, I think the biggest thing is to connect it to what people are already doing."
The city’s parks serve as flood plains, not just recreational spaces for residents. Strick says those spaces require planting and arboretum work. He adds the city is looking to switch to electric equipment including leaf blowers, weeders and mowers.
"None of us like change, right? Some of us adapt to it more readily than others, but change is difficult on all of us. And we’re talking about some pretty significant transitions here in the economy and the environment. Part of the challenge is walking people through those changes and transitions and connecting it to what already is here."
Strick cites offers an example with a current project. "We’re preparing STEM research for high schoolers and middle schoolers tied into removal of a low head dam from the Little River. The low head dams were invented as economic development. You could run a flour mill or a power plant on a river that didn’t have much drop to it. That’s obsolete technology now. It can become a threat to safety, but also it prevents you from enjoying the river and having kayaks and canoes go through it."
"Eventually somebody’s going to come in and they are going to demolish that dam, remove it and haul it off. Those are jobs that are very familiar for us. It’s helping folks understand that the skills they already have can be brought to bear on these challenges and solutions."
Looking ahead to the future
Schaust said she has seen more need in the talent pipeline, but notes, "There’s still a little more demand than there is supply of jobs. I’ve seen huge change in the past six years, but there’s still a little more students than there are full-time opportunities. That’s something I I’m hoping to see continue to change."
Strick said, "The key for me as an elected official is helping folks to understand why we do the things that we do. We want to make sure that our house is an order. We want to have full transparency with folks and explain the ‘why’ behind these things. Get it to that level of being able to help them embrace them and value them. And if they don’t value them, at least tolerate them and understand why some folks in the community might value them."
Regarding the recent SCOTUS opinion, Strick said his city is not going to lose its momentum in addressing climate issues. "We’re making these investments because it’s what’s right for our community."
He added, "I prefer to work at a company that does take care of the waste that they produce."
Bowers said, "I’m not stuck in one position. I can get from a third [operator] to a second to a first – and maybe even a supervisor. They don’t put that roadblock on you for not having a degree. To me, that’s important because there are a lot of people without education that are still smart and still have the ability to do things."
Crossroads Solar has landed a big win with national distributor — Krannich Solar — which will move the panels through a sales network. Regan says, "I am maybe evangelical, but we’re either going to do something about the climate or we’re going to fry the planet."
WorkingNation producer Deidra White contributed to the reporting for this article.