March 26, 2010
The Weatherization BoondoggleBy Peter Wilson
Leave it to the left to turn something as sensible as insulating your house into a big-government organized-labor boondoggle.
Dismal reports from Spain and other European countries about investing public funds in solar and wind power manufacturing seem to have shifted attention lately toward the humble goal of "weatherization" -- making our buildings more efficient by replacing windows, installing insulation, and caulking up leaks, and by "retrofitting" -- buying new, efficient furnaces and appliances for the deserving disadvantaged.
President Obama's proposed $6-billion program known as HOMESTAR, a.k.a. Cash for Caulkers, is only one of many energy efficiency initiatives taking place on federal, state, and municipal levels. To cite a few of many examples:
Elsewhere around the country:
So, one might ask, what's the problem? It's foolish to waste energy by heating or cooling the outdoors. Supporters claim that the money invested up front will save money in the long run. Everybody wins. In my own house, I've followed this sane policy by installing insulation and a modern gas-fired furnace in order to reduce my heating bills. Furthermore, if we must concede ground to aggressive green advocates and their phobia about greenhouse gases, retrofitting existing buildings is far and away the most cost-effective, no-regrets means of reducing CO2 emissions. Better to spend money to upgrade the nation's buildings than give away ineffective solar panels that will be worthless in a decade or two.
The new weatherization schemes, however, are about much more than energy efficiency. As the name "Green Jobs" implies, the movement is both a green initiative and a government-run jobs program. It has brought together a strange coalition of environmental groups, labor unions, and businesses hoping to profit in green ventures.
One leading coalition, the Apollo Alliance, co-founded by President Obama's former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones, is advocating for an "investment" of $500 billion in green jobs. Their board of directors offers a look at the cast of characters:
Apollo's Massachusetts energy study was produced in collaboration with its local affiliate, the Green Justice Coalition, and Community Labor United. The Steering Committee of Green Justice includes nineteen local groups, including carpenters' and painters' unions, the Coalition for Social Justice, and New England United for Justice (formerly ACORN). The CLU board is similarly made up of executives from SEIU, other labor unions, and ACORN.
Government has previously been involved in weatherization from the sidelines, offering rebates and subsidized loans, often through electric utilities. Even the stimulus money currently being targeted toward weatherization proceeds on a familiar model: The owner of a home or business takes the initiative to lower his electric bill. He gets competitive bids for insulation or new storm windows, hires a contractor, and then applies to the proper authority for a rebate.
Apollo and green jobs organizations propose a new paradigm, described on the Green Justice Coalition website:
In its next meeting, the EEAC will discuss plans for an Equity Committee, where working class and of-color communities can make sure that these new jobs and services get delivered.
Notice the following:
Proponents frequently cite that weatherization programs are cost-neutral, since future savings reimburse up-front costs. This may work for the Boston Housing Authority, which owns the properties it is retrofitting. Weatherization, however, is financed by increases in utility bills, paid by all energy users. Benefits accrue only to, in the words of the Apollo Alliance, "people of color, speakers of other languages, women, and people with barriers to employment." It is thus yet another Obama-era vehicle for redistribution of income.
The Green Justice website lays out their strategy for getting legislatures to fork over the green:
Take a Climate Crisis... Add an Economic and Environmental Justice Crisis... ...And You Get the Green Justice Solution.
Rahm Emanuel would be proud.
Peter Wilson is a writer who blogs at walkingdogcapitalist.