They must be slapping high-fives at the Heritage Foundation right now. Just two years after that right-wing think tank, heavily funded by the oil lobby, dedicated itself to undermining support for green jobs they scored the ultimate coup: getting Jon Stewart to repeat their deceptions in an attack on Seattle’s energy efficiency program. It was something of a master stroke for the Right’s communications machine—and worth studying for it’s diabolical effectiveness.
I’m related to someone close to Seattle’s program, so I’ve been biting my tongue since the attacks first flared up in August. But now that The Daily Show has been taken in, it’s time to get the facts straight.
Here’s what happened. In 2009, then-Mayor Nickels applied for a federal energy efficiency grant as part of Obama’s new stimulus program. That money was awarded to Seattle in 2010, after Mayor McGinn had taken office, to fund a program called Community Power Works. It funds or finances energy retrofits in six building sectors: single-family residences, hospitals, large commercial buildings, city buildings, small businesses, and multifamily buildings. The residential program launched in April 2011 and quickly became a target for right-wing attacks.
Just four months after the residential program began, seattlepi.com reporter Vanessa Ho published a mediocre article with an egregiously inflammatory headline (“Seattle ‘green jobs’ program a bust“) that seemed to entirely misunderstand the program. (Ho does good reporting on a range of issues, but this one was a dud.) That article sparked a burst of sniping locally and then gave rise to highly distorted coverage on national Fox News, as well as Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing outlets. Then, earlier this week, The Daily Show ran a segment beating up on federal green jobs efforts, including the grant to Seattle. Stewart’s sole source for the bit? Fox News.
Nice going, Heritage. Cue the high-fives. I’ll even give you a slow clap.
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It would be one thing if the critiques were accurate, but they’re not. The facts are all a matter of public record (updated online monthly). Leaving aside the other five building sectors in the program—hugely important sectors, I might add—here are the basics about the 6-month-old residential program:
- As of yesterday, 486 homeowners had applied to participate. 181 homeowners are in the bidding process, 29 are in the process of receiving energy upgrades or have already completed an upgrade of their home. (It typically takes a homeowner 2-4 months to complete the program.)
- 168 people have logged 20,000 hours of paid work for the program. All the contractors working on energy upgrades are local, including 18 percent that are minority-owned businesses; 18 percent that are veteran-owned businesses; and 10 percent that are woman-owned businesses. All the upgrades are performed by contractors paying living wages.
So far, Community Power Works has barely touched the federal grant funding, which lasts through June 2013, so it’s reasonable to expect more retrofits to come.
Will all of the program’s original promises come to fruition? I have no idea. In fact, no one knows yet because it’s much too early to tell.
Van Jones, no stranger to the Right’s hit men, got this point exactly right in his ringing defense on Sightline’s blog, “Community Power Works Is Just Getting Started.” Yet maybe the most intelligent way to think about green jobs is by way of the smart visual depiction that Alan Durning provided to illustrate the cycle that these things go through: inflated expectations, disillusionment, and ultimately productivity. It feels like we’re in the so-called “trough of disillusionment” now, but the worst mistake we can make is letting fossil fuel-funded hacks convince us that this is the end of the story.
Whether or not green jobs can deliver everything we hope—and I do think there’s some reason for caution—we’re dupes if we let Heritage and Fox News write the obituary now.