|Wind farm. Image: Wikipedia|
"It was like a time bomb went off," Matt Edler said in a recent article in the Inquirer. For 10 years he worked at the Valero oil refinery in Delaware City. In late November the company announced they would close its operation, putting 550 people out of work.
"My grandfather worked there, my father, and I worked there," he said. "We were all doing the best we could to keep the place alive. That's our life."
It was the second refinery shutdown in the region since October, when Sunoco idled its Eagle Point refinery, just opposite South Philadelphia, along the oft murky waters of the Delaware River. The industry is in trouble, not just from the Great Recession, but due to the belief that U.S. gasoline demand will never return to the highs of a few years back.
|Oil Refinery. Image: Wikipedia|
The displacement of workers is always tragic. And Philly has seen some of the worst of that throughout the ages. We are at a pivotal moment in history, not unlike the discovery of oil itself. Renewable energy and energy conservation industries are emerging rapidly, and jobs based around them are coming into view clear as water - clean water, that is, not the kind from the Delaware River.
Last week Mayor Michael Nutter announced a $1.4 million green jobs training program and a plan to reduce energy consumption in the city's public buildings 30 percent by 2015. The conservation plan includes retrofitting existing structures with updated energy efficient materials and systems, and is designed to be virtually self-funded, in that estimated savings will offset implementation costs and generate revenue for other services like under-funded libraries, schools and related jobs, while simultaneously creating immediate work for contractors in the construction, home-building and related trades.
The funding for jobs training is from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, including $100,000 of which will go to Connection Training Services to develop curriculum, course materials and competency models to meet the needs of employers in green industries, $140,000 to a pre-apprentice program at the Energy Coordinating Agency, and $150,000 to the Carpenters Joint Apprentice Committee to fund a program on green construction practices and procedures.
The Mayor shows no lack of boldness in stating his goal. He declares that Philadelphia will be "the greenest city in America." He says on the city's Greenworks website that "reaching it will be an opportunity to reposition and repurpose Philadelphia as a city of the future.
"For the first time in decades, changes beyond our borders—primarily rising energy prices, but also climate change and an emerging green economy—are increasing the value of our urban assets. Philadelphia’s dense and durable stock of housing, infrastructure and amenities position us to prosper in a carbon-constrained future."
Not all green jobs need be so technical and seemingly inaccessible. Some are traditional careers. Mayor Nutter includes local farmers in the category, brewery workers such as those at the Philadelphia Brewing Company who work with organic and locally grown ingredients, teachers who teach sustainability issues and eco-friendly design - even SEPTA bus drivers are green jobbers, he says, due to their providing public transportation for the city (however infrequent that may be, and when not on strike).
What's most inspiring is to see that young people are getting excited about this bold new world of work. A recent article in the local Star community newspaper titled Building for a Brighter Future describes how a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations such as Bentley Systems Inc., Ford Motor Company and Shell are teaming up with many area schools to boost science, biology, and engineering aptitude for kids.
The local Philadelphia Sheet Metal Workers Union will host the finals of the regional competition on Saturday. The winner of that event will qualify for the national finals in Washington, D.C. in February.
Come to think of it, there's another category that could be considered a green job - writers who blog about green jobs. --D.A. DeMers.
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