On Thursday the Senate Energy committee began debating a weatherization bill known as Home Star that aims to make American homes more energy efficient, while creating thousands of American jobs in the process. Home Star has the potential to significantly reduce residential energy consumption, saving consumers almost $10 billion over the next ten years, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to the removal of more than 600,000 cars from American highways.
Even more importantly given the state of our economy, the legislation is projected to create 168,000 local jobs in communities all across the country. That, more than anything else, is what Americans urgently want, particularly the people who have been hardest hit by the tough economic times – poor people and people of color.
While job creation is the consensus number one national priority at the moment, global climate change threatens not only the long-term health of the planet but our economic viability as well. We believe that the solution to both these crucial problems is a clean energy economy that creates million of green jobs that do not harm the planet. Home Star moves us in the right direction. And it is exactly the kind of innovative thinking and leadership that the American people want.
That was evident this week in the results of a survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies which found that African Americans -- who as a group were disproportionately impacted by the recession -- said they were willing to pay more for clean energy in order to combat global warming.
During the last three weeks of November 2009, The Joint Center, a Washington think tank focused on African American issues, surveyed 500 black adults in each of four states -- Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri and South Carolina. By considerable majorities in each state [See Table 6 of Survey], they said global warming was a major or moderate problem and that they were willing to pay an extra $10 each month on their electric bill if it would help fight global warming.
All we need now is leadership. Home Star is a small but significant step in the right direction.
Washington these days is spending a lot of time obsessing over its own gridlock, with each party blaming the other for the lack of action on issues critical to the American people. The completely broken process on health care reform stands as the prime example.
Outside of Washington however, the only concern is the ragged state of the job market and what is being done to fix it. Congress needs to pass a comprehensive jobs bill in order to further stimulate the economy, and that bill needs to include provisions that direct both investments and hiring to the people and communities where they are most needed. As we continue to debate the size and shape of such a jobs bill, Home Star is a good first step that can quickly generate jobs, many of them in low-income neighborhoods, and boost appliance sales.
Home Star, and the larger question of job creation, gives Washington a chance to break out of the current cycle of gridlock, recrimination and failure and do something for the American people at a time when we urgently need the government to be aggressively working on our most urgent interests.
Home Star will help three million American families retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient, and will save those consumers as much as $9.5 billion over ten years. The program dedicates $200 million to provide access to low-interest financing for homeowners to weatherize their homes or buy new, more energy efficient appliances.
In addition, the majority of the goods used for home weatherization are made in the U.S., and as a result the program will also boost domestic production in the building materials manufacturing sector. This sector is operating at less than 60 percent of capacity today, with an unemployment rate of almost 25 percent.
The country needs the economic jolt that Home Star can provide and Congress needs to rise to the occasion and pass it as soon as possible. If it gets to the President’s desk he is sure to sign it. Last week in Georgia he laid out the stakes around Home Star: “We know it will make our economy less dependent on fossil fuels, helping to protect the planet for future generations,” he said. “But I want to emphasize that Home Star will also create business and spur hiring up and down the economy.”
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is CEO of Green For All, an organization dedicated to promoting a green-collar economy that will reduce poverty and pollution at the same time.