The Obama administration has earmarked more than $80 billion of stimulus funding for energy and environmental programs. How closely are you working with the Department of Labor to implement those programs in states and cities?
We consider ourselves part of the engine that Labor will need to really make that green economy take hold. The president continually says that the way out of our current economic crisis is the green economy. So when EPA is requiring air pollution controls, there are lots of jobs in the air pollution control industry; and when EPA requires a water plant to upgrade or someone to take action to clean up water, those are all green jobs. When we cut diesel pollution by retrofitting a bus or a garbage truck, those are green jobs. When we ask someone to clean up a Superfund site [land that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to people or the environment] and turn a barren area into an economic engine for a community, all those jobs are potential green jobs. The president has also stressed that these are jobs that can’t be outsourced.
We had $100 million through the Recovery Act for our brownfields [land that is abandoned, idled, or underused; less of an environmental threat, brownfields represent an economic threat since they hinder development and stifle local economies] program to clean up former industrial and commercial sites. The brownfields 2011 proposed budget includes an increase of $215 million that will be used for planning, cleanup, redevelopment, and job training. Our brownfields job training program prepares workers for jobs in the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields properties, including abandoned corner gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, and abandoned industrial and commercial properties. These investments target underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed. The brownfields job training program has trained 5,000 people, and more than half have already been placed in full-time employment in the environmental field with an average starting hourly wage of more than $14.
As EPA’s first black administrator, do you feel it’s important for African Americans to get involved with the environment and embrace the clean energy future?
We, for too long, falsely believed that the environment is something out there that we didn’t need to worry about too much. The environmental justice movement should be credited for making it clear that anything that affects the environment tends to impact people of color and certainly low-income people more. For decades, in our country, factories were located near our communities and it was very different. People should not have to make a choice between a job and the health of their families. I think you can have both. Whatever is coming out of the smokestack or the pipes, whatever ends up on the land, shouldn’t threaten their community.
If you’re not thinking about energy as a solution, we’re going to miss a huge opportunity. The president is calling on Americans to embrace a completely different future. It will be a new economy, and the best thing about a new economy is that it wipes the board clean and allows us an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
How do you plan to attract and encourage small business owners? What type of financial or tax incentives will be offered?
The Recovery Act includes grants, loans, and tax credits in the clean energy and renewable energy fields. Here at EPA we have a strong small business program. EPA is a place that actually grows business opportunities. We have a home for minority concerns, whether it’s contracting, training, or other issues. Of the approximately $325 million in Recovery Act money obligated under EPA contracts to date, about $103 million has gone to minority-owned firms, many of which are small businesses. To reach our office of small business programs, call 202-566-2075, or visit our Website, www.epa.gov/osbp, and click on Direct Team.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.