Hope Rising

Hope Rising

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus bill) was passed by Congress late last week and will be signed after the President's Day holiday.

Is it perfect? Nothing of this magnitude and complexity could be, especially in a time of great ideological division between the two major parties.

Is it a step in the right direction? I believe so -- the bill puts in place $787 billion in spending and tax cuts that should have a salutary effect on the U.S. economy.

Additional measures will no doubt be needed in the months ahead, but the first, most difficult steps have been taken. Following are links to the bill and summary statements approved by the House/Senate Conference Committee that negotiated the final draft:
Bill Text, Appropriations & Related Provisions (Division A)
Conference Committee Statement, Appropriations & Related Provisions (Division A)
Bill Text, Tax Cuts & Related Provisions (Division B)
Conference Committee Statement, Tax Cuts & Related Provisions (Division B)

To put the bill in context, consider the message of the 2009 Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, held in Washington from February 4-6. Sponsored by the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental and labor organizations, the conference provided strong and moving testimony that the American people don't want a handout -- they want to get back to work. And they've not just been waiting for the federal government to act -- they've begun to develop local and state initiatives to create jobs in green industries. The mood at the conference was one of hope -- that Washington would be a partner in a new, green future. Happily, the new stimulus funds could be used to provide additional financial muscle for the following existing and proposed green programs, all highlighted at Good Jobs, Green Jobs:

• Babylon, New York, a Long Island town with a population of 220,000 has created a Green Homes retrofit program that saves energy and creates jobs. Home improvements under the program, capped at $12,000, are funded from the town's solid waste fund and repaid under a long-term repayment plan that "runs with the house" -- the obligation transfers if the home is sold. All renovations must be completed by a Babylon-licensed contractor. The Babylon program has increased the number of local weatherization contracting businesses from one to six. The annual costs of weatherization improvements are more than offset by reduced energy bills -- the average homeowner saves roughly $920 per year. Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Ballone, an attorney and LEED Accredited Professional, estimates that an equivalent national program could create as many as 384,000 jobs.

• The East Bay Green Corridor Partnership is a regional effort to link Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the University of California at Berkeley and the cities of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and Emeryville to leverage area strengths in technology development. Emerging green R&D firms are linked with public incentives that will help them grow, and area job training and internship programs provide qualified employees. The results are a win-win for the firms, newly hired employees and interns and the East Bay's economic base.

Greensburg, Kansas, population 1,389, was leveled by a tornado in May 2007, over 95 percent of its building stock destroyed. Greensburg is transforming devastation into opportunity by rebuilding as a green community: The new master plan is based on sustainable principles; all public buildings greater than 4,000 square feet must conform to LEED Platinum requirements and achieve energy-efficiency at least 42 percent greater than local code; new townhomes for moderate-income families have been certified LEED Gold. The greening of Greensburg has brought publicity and economic activity to a community that had previously been in decline. Greensburg is the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary and won a 2008 Sustainable Cities award. A LEED Platinum school, hospital, business incubator and City Hall are under construction. Long-term, Torsten Energy has announced plans to locate a biodiesel plant in Greensburg.

• U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who represents Ohio and who provided the 60th vote for the stimulus package, observes that Ohio's manufacturing plants, as well as additional American manufacturing capacity, can be redeployed to support the green economy. Steel producers can provide the steel for wind turbines. Glass producers can produce the glass for solar panels. Owens Corning produces home insulation at a Newark, Ohio plant that employs 700. In January 2009, worker furloughs were announced due to the economic downturn. Energy efficient and green building construction to be funded through the stimulus package, including the federal government buildings, military housing and facilities, and weatherization for lower-income families, should help to put the Newark plant back into full production.

Leanne Tobias is founder and principal of Malachite LLC, an advisory firm that specializes in the development, leasing, management, financing and certification of sustainable or green real estate on a global basis. Write to Leanne about your thoughts on jumpstarting the economy at [email protected]. She'll share the best ideas in future posts.