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February 08, 2011

Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference Day 1

IMG_3012 "Say what you want about EPA's business sense, we know how to get a return on our investment." --Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, when talking about the Clean Air Act's $40 in benefits for every $1 spent since it was implemented.

Today was Day 1 of the 2011 Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference, and while I could only stay for half a day, it was really great. EPA head Lisa Jackson kicked off the conference with a great speech - which began with a great gift (it's her birthday) from United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard and the Blue Green Alliance.

IMG_3009 Because some pollution-lovers in Congress already setting their sights on ham-stringing EPA, Gerard and BGA got Lisa Jackson some boxing gloves - and she loved them. After draping them across the front of the podium, she went on to give a fantastic speech. Some highlights: (BONUS, you can now watch her speech from this morning right here on YouTube)

--"The top priority in this administration is to create good jobs."

--"Closing pollution loopholes levels the playing field."

--"It's critical that we have a modern environmental infrastructure."

--"(EPA's) most fundamental responsibility is protecting the health of the public."

--"The Clean Air Act alone has provided trillions of dollars in benefits."

--"Environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand. Environmental protection creates jobs."

After her speech came a panel discussion entitled "Clean Energy Economy - Manufacture it, Improve It, Invest In It." I was particularly struck by panel member William J. O'Rourke, Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health and Safety for Alcoa.

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(L to R, Kevin Knobloch of Union of Concerned Scientists, Leo Gerard of USW, Nancy Sutley of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, William O'Rourke of Alcoa, and John Podesta of the Center for American Progress).

O'Rourke just really seemed to get it - whether it was his company's impressive carbon emissions reduction record, or his views on environmental protection and the business world's imperative to lead the way.

Alcoa has cut its emissions 43% since 1990 - "But that's not enough," said O'Rourke.  They're pushing for another 20% cut by 2020.

From there it was workshop time. I popped into a few workshops, but was particularly struck by the one entitled: "Sowing the Seeds for a Greener Future: Preparing Youth for the Green Economy." The Sierra Club had packed the room with many youth from its many youth programs - from Building Bridges to the Outdoors, to Sierra Student Coalition, to Inner City Outings. (And many of them are blogging about the conference too - check it out!)

Moderated by Jackie Ostfeld ofIMG_3026 Sierra Club's youth programs (pictured at the left), it was refreshing to hear so many young people talk about their love of nature and their urge to work in the clean energy economy. Likewise, it was encouraging to see so many organizations working with young people on just those issues. Ostfeld pointed out the importance of getting kids outdoors early in their lives to make a lasting impression on them - otherwise the stresses of "Nature Deficit Disorder" will take hold.

The Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference website also has a good feature on this workshop.

I also stopped in to the "11 Workers Killed and the Worst Environmental Disaster Ever: How Do We Respond to the Deepwater Horizon Explosion?" workshop. After hearing that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil wells in U.S. coastal waters, 3,500 oil rigs in U.S. coastal waters, and only 62 federal inspectors to handle all that - many said it was no surprise, sadly, that the BP oil disaster happened.

IMG_3043 Dr. Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice highlighted one important issue many of us probably haven't thought about - where does all the cleaned up oil waste go to? Her agency is watching it being shipped to landfills in low income and minority communities across several southern states.

  Jordan Macha of Sierra Club Louisiana (pictured above) spoke about our response to the disaster - pointing out that the oil and gas industry has long had little regard for our coasts and wetlands.

Before I left for the day, I made sure to stop and drool at the very shiny Chevy Volt sitting in the reception area. Now that's a good lookin' electric vehicle! I tried to convince the car's watchers to let me take it for a spin, but they weren't ok with that for some reason. Oh well.

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The conference continues tomorrow and Thursday. If you're in Washington, DC, you should stop in to hear some great speakers from and network with the labor and environmental communities.

 -- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Media Team

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