Gulf Coast residents need clean energy jobs

Just because BP seems to have stopped the oil spill does not mean we should go back to business as usual in the Gulf.

I’ve been visiting Gulf Coast communities over the last three months, and I’ve seen the despair.

The people of the Gulf need job opportunities — but not in the oil and gas industries that have taken such a heavy toll on the health and environment.

What we need are clean energy jobs. And the only way we’re going to get them is through government policies that put our economy on a clean energy trajectory.

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We’ve heard a lot over the last three months about how clean energy policies can stimulate the economy and create green jobs. President Obama mentioned this in his Oval Office speech about the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.

But so far, our leaders are only talking about clean energy — not actually doing anything to promote it. Talk does not create jobs; action creates jobs.

I’m living proof that you can transition from the fossil fuel industry into clean energy. I worked for 20 years in the oil and petrochemical industries in Louisiana, and now I work at a green company that helps ports reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m definitely not alone. Over the last decade, green jobs in the United States grew at more than twice the rate of overall jobs.

But with unemployment still in the double digits across the nation, and the people on the Gulf Coast struggling to survive, we need far more clean energy job growth than what we’re seeing right now.

This will only become a reality if the U.S. government passes policies that send a strong signal to businesses that our country is making a long-term commitment to a clean energy future. Businesses need this signal to know how to invest, and, with this signal, they will move in a direction that creates many more jobs in areas like renewable energy and electric cars for people like me who once worked in oil and gas.

The window of opportunity for adopting meaningful federal clean energy policies is closing. The Senate needs to pass a clean energy bill before the end of the summer because after that, our national politicians will turn all of their attention to the November election.

Another window of opportunity is also closing: to let people of the Gulf Coast know that our government recognizes their pain and is capable of taking decisive action to create good jobs in the clean energy sector.

I fear that without a strong bill to stimulate clean energy job growth, the hopelessness of the Gulf Coast — and the people’s loss of faith in both business and government — could have a ripple effect.

For the Gulf and for the country, we’ve got to promote clean energy and good jobs.

Jerome Ringo, former president and current board member of the Apollo Alliance, is senior executive for global strategies for Green Port, a private company that focuses on establishing sustainable green ports around the world. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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