Out of Control Policy Blog

"Green" projects vs. shovel ready

The Obama Administration and Congressional leaders will have their hands full trying to placate the environmental lobby who won't stand for anything that resembles the "current system." Obama's advisors are looking for "shovel ready" projects that can stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, most so-called green projects are long-term, not short term, so serve little purpose in terms of stimulating the economy, as this Washington Post article points out.

Senior aides in the new administration and the congressional leadership privately predict that they will be able to please both camps but suggest that there have been delays in identifying enough of the environmentally friendly projects to reach a dollar level that will truly jump-start the economy.

That's unlikely to satisfy environmentalist, though.

But environmentalists and their allies view old-fashioned highway construction as encouraging longer commutes and increasing the energy-consumption crisis of the past year. "They're going to put a bunch of money through a broken system to stimulate the economy. That doesn't make sense to me," said Colin Peppard, a transportation expert for Friends of the Earth.

Peppard's group recently began a "Road to Nowhere" campaign, saying that new roads would lead to "new pollution -- keep the economic stimulus clean."

One of the more intriguing aspects of this debate is how it is pitting labor against enviornmentalist special interests.

The largest beneficiary of the shovel-ready construction projects would be labor unions. There are fewer of the green-collar jobs, a key focus of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). These projects often have the long-term potential to revolutionize the economy but tend to lack the short-term bounce of old-fashioned infrastructure work. Not as many of them involve union labor.

Labor leaders have refrained from criticizing other stakeholders in the infrastructure debate, saying that the stimulus legislation will provide plenty of money to fund quick-starting pavement projects and environmentally friendly efforts. "It shouldn't be one or the other," said Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, a union group. "In fact, we do have crumbling roads and bridges that need to be repaired. It's not about pitting one against the other. It's about how we find a sustainable economy."

And that's probably shat we'll get: a gigantic federal spending bill that attempts to satisfy everyone.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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