Wanted: Good Jobs To Clean Our Water And Air

The future of clean green jobs is no longer with the federal government.
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By Elsa Barboza

Expect hundreds of thousands of people to make themselves heard on Saturday when Americans of all stripes will join the People’s Climate Movement to march in Washington, D.C. and in satellite marches across the country. More than 800 organizations across the country are working together to rid our air and water from worsening pollution, while also creating solutions that create good jobs in our communities. We all share a vision that protects our families and the places we call home. On April 29, the communities most impacted by climate change in the US will lead the way to solutions that matter.

Why? Under Donald Trump, the federal government has forsaken its responsibility to ensure that all Americans breathe clean air and drink clean water. He and his cronies have given up on ensuring a clean energy economy that provides green jobs to make our communities sustainable. Instead, the decisions coming out of the administration work to benefit corporations by unleashing them to spew toxins into the air and poison our waters, while hurting families and communities that need clean air, water and jobs to thrive.

Here is the good news: The future of clean green jobs is no longer with the federal government. It is with people in progressive cities and states who recognize that the administration’s deeds are an opportunity in disguise. Communities of color, progressive elected officials and environmental advocates are focused on two key areas: Passing legislation at the city, county and state level that results in the clean environment we need now and creating green jobs in our communities to help us achieve it.

Consider, that more than 1,000 mayors in U.S. cities have signed up to reduce their cities’ carbon emissions. Eighteen states are already set to meet their goals for reducing carbon emissions.

Locally, community groups are leading the way with some of the most robust and creative efforts to make their neighborhoods sustainable. For example, communities in South Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. have been hard at work creating what they know they need – good paying green union jobs and concrete training programs focused on training and hiring unemployed community members to be successful in these new jobs.

In Los Angeles, for example, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), a social justice group that represents the predominantly black and brown residents in South LA, where one in every three people are unemployed or underemployed. Faced with such dismal statistics, SCOPE, local advocacy group LAANE and the electricians’ union International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 formed a coalition of more than 40 LA groups made up of environmentalists and workforce development, labor and youth groups. The coalition, called Repower LA, pushes the city’s Department of Water and Power to install or require the installation of energy efficient systems in homes, small businesses and schools. That means installing efficient toilets and faucet aerators that use less water or light fixtures and bulbs that use less electricity.

Thousands of businesses, churches, homes have received free energy efficient work in their buildings, which has lowered their utility bills month. Meanwhile, this effort has created a demand that has resulted in hundreds of new jobs at the utility for people to install the systems. Unemployed residents who undergo training and receive the proper certifications fill these new jobs. At the same time, they earning a living wage and health benefits that help them and their families succeed.

This effort was not unique for SCOPE. A few years before, the organization worked with the city, as well as unions, environmentalists and community groups to establish an initiative that retrofitted more than 50 of the city’s buildings into more green and sustainable condition. A training program for unemployed residents to do the work underpinned this effort.

On the other side of the country, the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) has worked relentlessly to ensure that the Washington D.C. residents train and have access to new jobs that created to improve the district’s water quality. In D.C., a court settlement found that during heavy rains, the city’s sewer and water system discharged untreated storm water and wastewater into river and streams, causing toxic pollution.

Outraged residents with WIN demanded more investment in cleaning up the waterways and pushed the city to ensure that at least 51% of local residents train in the jobs required for the cleanup. The group also successfully pushed for green infrastructure solutions to the storm water, run-off problems that include using permeable pavement, rain garden and wetlands construction to steer away toxic runoff from the D.C. water bodies.

So on Saturday, we will raise our voices to be heard on these important issues. The marches will last just a few hours but our burgeoning movement will not be defeated.

Elsa Barboza is a senior organizer at the Center for Community Change, where she leads efforts to create clean energy jobs for low-income communities of color nationwide.