Commentary: Black Leaders Are Building a Healthy Green Economy

The Congressional Black Caucus and companies like Volt Energy are very important for the green job industry.

Posted: 09/18/2013 04:00 AM EDT

Simon Antonio Francis (left); Gilbert G. Campbell III, the duo behind Volt Energy. (Photo: Courtesy of Volt Energy Inc.)

Chances are, you probably don’t know that one of the best environmental voting records on Capitol Hill belongs to the Congressional Black Caucus. Our African-American leaders in Washington, D.C. — like CBC Chair Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — have consistently served as some of the fiercest champions protecting America’s clean air and water. They’ve also advocated for creating the kind of jobs that help, not harm, public health.

Their leadership on the issue sometimes feels like a well kept secret — and it shouldn’t be. Because these representatives are not just protecting us from the pollution that hits Black communities especially hard — they’re advocating for the kind of good green jobs that can help eradicate poverty and make our communities safer, healthier and more prosperous.

At its annual conference this week, the CBC will address the most challenging issues facing Black America. They will talk at length about civil rights, education, public health and how to spur employment opportunities in African-American communities, where jobless rates are still hovering in the double digits — almost twice the national rate.

And CBC’s environmental background will come in handy as they tackle this problem because the green economy offers one of our best shots at creating jobs and prosperity in Black communities. That’s because green jobs tend to pay more (13 percent above the median U.S. wage) while requiring less formal education — a recipe for escaping poverty.

CBC Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is one of the champions who understands the economic opportunities that the clean energy sector presents. That’s why he included the green economy in his discussion at the CBC conference on trends that would have a large, positive impact in creating quality jobs for Black workers. By focusing on investment in clean energy and green technology, we can feed two birds with one seed — fighting pollution while building economic resilience.

Just take a look at Volt Energy. The company — one of America’s largest minority-owned clean energy firms and a partner of Green for All — just launched an innovative new program that will bring 755 solar panels to a charter school in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. The project’s impact will be huge: The clean energy produced will cut carbon emissions by 6,664 tons — the equivalent of planting more than 33,000 trees or taking 13 million car miles off the road. The project will bring good paychecks home to solar installers and other workers. It will also help introduce a new generation to opportunities in the clean energy sector.

Students at the school — part of the KIPP D.C. network of tuition-free charter schools serving under-resourced neighborhoods — will have the chance to attend workshops and learn about career opportunities in solar energy.

"We believe this project serves as a catalyst to spark [students’] interest in alternative energy, which is important as these are the very students who will one day be tasked with solving the world's complex energy challenges," explained Gilbert G. Campbell III, co-owner of Volt Energy.

Meanwhile, the school will save precious dollars that would have been spent paying for energy costs.

Volt’s not alone in thinking big and bringing the benefits of the green economy to Black communities. All over America, people of color are leading the way in the green economy — from Baltimore’s Aisha Dorsey, who runs her own environmental remediation business, to Houston’s Kareem Dale, whose company has brought energy savings to more than 1,000 low-income residents.

That’s why the Congressional Black Caucus’ leadership on green jobs is so important. We’re about to experience a clean energy boom just like the tech boom that created prosperity for so many Americans. And this time, we don’t want communities of color to miss the boat.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is CEO of Green for All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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