Clean Energy and Dirty Jobs: Smart investments for local communities everywhere

The Wilderness Society helped kick off the two-day long Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference  that brought together labor representatives, environmentalists, and others interested in creating a green economy – hosting 2 panels on creating jobs and saving our natural landscapes. 

The first panel was an innovative workshop titled “Creating Jobs by Revitalizing Brownfields with Renewable Energy.”  Hosted b Wilderness Society Director of Climate Policy David Moulton, and featuring panelist from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Colorado Brownfields Foundation, and Encore Redevelopment presented success stories, employment opportunities, and lessons learned from their experience in developing renewable energy on brownfields and other contaminated sites.   

Brownfields – old industrial sites and other disturbed lands – have great potential for renewable energy development, according to Lura Matthews of the EPA.  They are already fairly widespread - Judy Sheahan of the U.S. Conference of Mayors noted that there are brownfields in every congressional district.  And because many of these are former industrial sites, there isn’t a need for new transmission lines to get the energy from the windmills and solar panels to the communities that need it.  

Each panelist touched on the many benefits of renewable energy development on brownfields, from the economic to the social to the environmental.  For example, Chad Farrell of Encore Redevelopment noted that clean energy on brownfields usually faces less aesthetic opposition, and sites often have favorable zoning laws.  Jesse Silverstein of the Colorado Brownfields Foundation used his experience with one particular renewable energy project in Colorado Springs to demonstrate how reusing brownfield sites takes pressure off of undeveloped land and promotes stewardship by protecting human health and the environment. 

And of course, these projects create underlining benefits for today’s economy: jobs.  Production, manufacturing, installation, pre-development, operational, management, environmental assessment, decommissioning, and legal jobs, just to name a few, are all part of the process. 


The other panel at the conference was a horse of a different color for a conference with a heavy emphasis on wind turbines, solar panels, and green infrastructure.  Called “Revitalizing Local Economies through Restoring Our Public Lands” the discussion centered on the natural restoration activities that can help prepare communities and ecosystems for the effects of climate change – and the tremendous job creation opportunities that restoration and climate smart conservation provide.  The panel was moderated by TWS Climate Change Policy Advisor JP Leous.

Panelist Glenn Hurowitz, from Climate Advisers, showed that dollar-for-dollar, restoration and conservation are the hands down winners when it comes to job creation – creating nearly 40 jobs per $1 million invested.  These projects also create a ripple effect in the economy, creating $2 in economic activity for every $1 invested – not a bad return on projects that improve our lands, water, and air.

But the benefits of climate-smart conservation don’t end there: Keith Underwood, who runs a firm that puts restoration projects on the ground, showed how restoring streambeds to their natural states actually saved local municipalities millions of dollars.   These restored streambeds are often vastly superior to the typical concrete pipes and gutters that are usually installed to deal with runoff – constantly evolving and improving with growing vegetation and stream life. 

Sean McGuire of the Maryland DNR’s Office for a Sustainable Future echoed these sentiments, pointing out that Maryland will be on the front lines of sea-level rise, and will have the most to gain from pre-emptive measures, especially ones that create jobs. 

Putting America back to work on American lands benefits everyone.  Whether they are jobs installing solar panels on brownfields, or restoring streams, forests, and wetlands, these are jobs that have proven benefits and cannot be shipped overseas.