Few See a Path to Green Industry for African Americans

The green energy and clean technology industries are widely predicted to be the next boom industry over the next twenty years, a development the outgoing chief of the Environmental Protection Agency says could affect the wealth, earning potential and upward mobility of millions of African Americans.

But in an exclusive interview with BlackEnterprise.com, Lisa P. Jackson, who shortly after Barack Obama was re-elected in November told the White House that she wished to resign, says that she remains skeptical about whether African Americans would have a seat at the table while giving President Obama a vote of confidence on environmental concerns — even as observers have openly questioned the president’s commitment the environment and investment in emerging green technology.

“The president has made it clear that we have to have an economy for all people,” Jackson said. “If we don’t have black business owners qualified or supported [to take advantage of government contracts], if we’re not training people in our communities to be fluent [in green technology], wealth creation will be a missed opportunity. We’ll be missing out on a big chunk of this investment and we can’t afford to miss this.”

The rancor over both Jackson’s resignation and President Obama’s relative silence comes as Black unemployment jumped from 12.9 to 14 percent in January. Simply put, there are more questions than answers, more rhetoric than ideas.

But despite the seemingly requisite criticism inside the Beltway, Jackson’s term at the EPA was not without accomplishment. She oversaw a plan to reduce mercury, arsenic and lead from power plants; the project created 30,000 short-term construction jobs and 15,000 permanent jobs. Jackson says the president wants to make sure that we are investing in research and development [in clean technology] and turning around green jobs. “These types of jobs can’t be done overseas. These opportunities and jobs are here,” she said.

In his book The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones echoed a similar, if not a more hardline, sentiment. “If the best of the green wave bypasses the most disadvantaged urban and rural communities, then low-income and marginalized places will miss out altogether on their one shot in this new century at a glorious rebirth.”

Unemployment isn’t the only disparity African Americans must turn their attention to in the fight to keep up with the changing climate of a fast-moving green economy

An unhealthy community largely affected by environmental pollution is drain on resources in overburdened communities and negatively impacts access to prosperity from natural resources. Productive programming, partnerships and planning in these communities can create new opportunities; for her part, Jackson has worked with organizations such as Jack and Jill and Mocha Moms to spread environmental education and awareness on a variety of issues.

“It’s a myth that we don’t care about the environment,” she said of her experiences. “Some of the communities that are suffering the most know the importance of addressing environmental issues. They come at it from the perspective of public health protection, not from an environmental conservation background.

Jackson says access training and non-traditional education will have an impact on the future of who takes advantage of opportunities.

“Clean tech training isn’t always just a college degree, we need technical people that can repair power plants, auto, wind, installing clean air machines,” she said. “From the laboratory to out in the field, we as a community have to grab on to the idea that we can prepare ourselves for this economy. Maths, engineering and sciences need to be encouraged.”