Biden discusses green economy

Vice President Joe Biden was in town last week to discuss how environmentally friendly jobs can help the country’s middle class emerge successfully from the economic crisis.

The White House Middle Class Task Force, which Biden chairs, held its first meeting at the University of Pennsylvania on Feb. 27. The committee, which is also comprised of top-level administrators such as the secretaries of labor, health and human services, education and commerce, is charged with evaluating the issues faced by middle-class Americans and working with federal agencies to create viable solutions.

Joining the vast array of lawmakers and politicians in the audience was a collection of invited business leaders, such as Kate Karasmeighan, chief of staff and director of affiliate relations at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Karasmeighan and Bill Gehrman, president of local LGBT chamber of commerce the Independence Business Alliance, looked to bring the topics discussed among the committee members and the panel of experts who testified back to the LGBT community.

“It’s really integral for Bill and I to be able to hear the plans that are being laid out so that we can then push that into our community and ensure that the LGBT business community is able to take part in all the changes and the great things that are taking place now,” Karasmeighan said.

“We’ve learned a lot and heard a lot of great perspectives,” Gehrman said. “We want to continue to learn more and find out ideas for our member businesses and see how we can tie the LGBT community into this.”

The meeting centered on the idea that a city or community that invests in green jobs will reap the benefits, as it would not only be working toward the overall improvement of the quality of life for its citizens, but also to see the creation of innumerable new job opportunities for out-of-work citizens.

“There are a lot of different definitions for ‘green jobs’ but the bottom line in simple terms, it means all jobs associated with environmental improvement, improving the lives of the American people,” Biden said. “A scientist who is working on an advanced renewable alternative to CO2-producing fossil fuels is engaged in a green job just as is a laborer who is winterizing or weatherizing a home.”

Panelist Van Jones, founder and president of Green for All, highlighted the effect that promoting a green economy could have on future generations.

“The country is facing a challenge of historic proportions. It is a challenge to retrofit and repower a nation, something that has never been done,” Jones said. “It is a technological challenge, it is a legislative challenge, it is a business challenge. But it’s also a moral challenge because we have young people just blocks from this building who have no hope, no future. This green movement has a moral responsibility to be a green wave that lifts all boats. We are the first generation of Americans to build a green economy that Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] would be proud of.”

Biden said that President Obama’s stimulus plan, which Congress passed last month, allocates $19 billion for investment into renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power as well as other allotments for the expansion of green jobs in the country.

“This is not something we’re just throwing money at. This is a serious, serious undertaking and I think the country is poised to take advantage of it. Investing in green jobs means two critical things for the middle class: more jobs to keep up with the 21st-century needs and lower energy costs.”

Biden noted that Philadelphia has 400,000 rowhomes, the owners of which could vastly decrease their home-heating and cooling bills by having their houses weatherized.

“Just doing that would lower household energy consumption by 20-40 percent, saving families hundreds of dollars a year,” he said.

Gehrman said the IBA currently has one member business that installs “green” roofs, adding the chamber is eager to enlist other environmentally conscious companies.

“We’d love to know more, not only about current LGBT businesses who are part of the green economy but also about other entrepreneurs who have ideas and are looking at that,” he said. “We want to know if any opportunities come down the road so we can feed those dollars directly into the LGBT community.”

The task force will continue to tour the country and hold public meetings once a month for the next year, looking at other issues such as education and retirement.

Karasmeighan said she found the inclusion of the LGBT community at last week’s event to be characteristic of the new administration.

“From the beginning of the Obama administration, the LGBT community has really been included at every level,” she said. “The cofounders of NGLCC were invited to hear President Obama speak about the stimulus plan less than a week after his inauguration into office, so this is a continuation of the LGBT business community being included in the administration’s plans.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].