Chicago Green Jobs

Chicago’s Transportation Stimulus Money Open for Public Comment
March 9, 2009, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

Transparency – hooray!  The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, or CMAP, has made its list of 116 “shovel ready” projects available to the public.  The projects are pretty heavy on road resurfacing, a need I appreciate much more now that it’s warm enough to bike around the city and play “avoid the pothole.”  There’s also some Metra and Pace projects happening – for the full list head here.

So what makes these fairly standard sounding projects count as stimulus spending? According to Adrian Uribarri, who wrote a first-hand account of the announcement meeting for the Chi-Town Daily News, CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn explained that these projects were originally scheduled for 2010 and 2011. By bumping them up to 2009 we’re creating jobs now, presumably because we’ll have to hire more people to complete these projects on their newly compressed schedule.

So here’s the fun part: if you have questions or want CMAP to get your input on this list, you can attend one of two last meetings to finalize the list. The meetings will be held at the CMAP offices at 233 South Wacker Drive, Suite 800, Chicago, IL.

Wednesday, March 11th. 9:30 – 11 am.

Thursday, March 12th. 10am – noon.

According to Susi An of Chicago Public radio, the public has been very, very quiet at previous meetings. I’ll go ahead and guess that’s partially because most people didn’t know that the meetings were being held and partially because board meetings sound very dull despite the fact that millions of dollars are getting spent in them. If you have a strong interest in the jobs (primarily in construction) that can be created out of these funds I strongly suggest you attend.


Stimulus Bill: Funding Environmentalism 1.0
March 6, 2009, 4:48 am
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

So I spent some time with Pro Publica’s line by line breakdown of the spending provisions in the stimulus bill, and discovered all kinds of fun facts about the green spending in the stimulus bill. While we wait for Mayor Daley to share his plans for our share of the stimulus money with the class, let’s take a look!

There’s lots of info here, so I’m breaking it up into categories for ease of use. Today’s topic: It turns out that Environmentalism 1.0 – the old school seventies kind with the tree hugging – got a nice slice of the green spending pie.  The green energy and high speed rail projects got the headlines along with the bulk of the green spending, but by my calculations $14.5 billion of the stimulus went to important but less glamorous restoration and conservation work. What does that mean for jobs? Let’s go to the data, after the jump!

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Daley and the Stimulus Funds
March 5, 2009, 3:51 am
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

The stimulus bill requires Washington to distribute money to the states for transit projects no later than March 10th.  For those of you following along at home, that’s just 6 days away.  And yet Mayor Daley has not yet submitted Chicago’s list of “shovel ready” projects to either Washington or us civilians.  So what’s the story?

Let’s review the dollars at stake. For transit, the state of Illinois has a pot of $429 million to divide. This $429 million is the money that must be applied for by March 10th. For other expenditures, Illinois has $506 million to share out. The deadlines here vary, but they are also coming up soon.

Chicago’s not going to get all those millions, but it’s a good bet that we’ll get a decent chunk of it. So what did we decide to do with it? Well, it’s hard to say, because “we” in this case is “Mayor Daley,” and he’s not talking. Why not, you ask? According to Daley, “We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart.” Yup, that’s pretty much how democracy works! This is my first year in Chicago, and after the Blagojevich and Burris festivities I’m beginning to get the hang of how things roll here. But it’s still disappointing.

Le sigh. So what can we piece together? General outlines: repair for roads and transit lines, weatherization for homes, solar panel installation, and school and fixing sewer lines. And one specific detail: Mayor Daley has said that he wants $50 million to expand O’Hare.

As irritating as Daley’s lack of transparency is, we can rest assured that we’ll get the details soon – there’s no way that the mayor will let millions slip away from the city for lack of a little paperwork. Watch this space – we should have more details by the 10th.

Statistics on the Table: Green Recovery Report
February 25, 2009, 3:08 am
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

As a project developer, there is nothing I like more than a nice, meaty, report that’s choc full of numbers.*  I just came across this splendid report: The Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low Carbon Economy, published jointly by the Center for American Progress and PERI. The report outlines an economic recovery program the authors believe will create 2 million green jobs. The price tag? $100 billion over two years – a très 2009 number.

The Green Recovery plan divides that $100 billion into six renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors:

  1. Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency
  2. Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  3. Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  4. Wind power
  5. Solar power
  6. Next-generation biofuels

Most of the jobs in these sectors have familiar titles: Civil Engineers. Electricians. Construction Laborers. Metal Fabricators. Agricultural Workers. It’s the end result that makes these familiar sounding jobs green: the infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy that combats global warming and weans us off foreign oil.

Oh, and speaking of oil – I really like the part about how investing that same $100 billion in the oil industry would net a mere 542,000 jobs. I love finding numbers that show that the right thing to do is also the most cost-effective.

This report was published in September 2008, so the burning question is: how does the stimulus bill stack up against this plan? The authors were careful to point out that any stimulus program would need to be structured differently, with a greater emphasis on short term plans. Still, the $80 billion or so in green investments in the stimulus bill is in the same ballpark as the $100 billion recommended in this report, and there is doubtless some overlap. I’m going to do some research and make a few calls over the next few days and see what I can find out.

*At home I prefer Terry Pratchett novels.

The Path of Least Resistance
February 20, 2009, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

Now that the stimulus bill has been signed into law we can expect to see the money start pouring in for projects here in Chicago and across the country.   $80 billion in green investments and tax cuts is not chump change. But it behooves us to remember that the stimulus bill is intended to create jobs as quickly as possible. That means that much of the stimulus money,  like water, will flow down the path of least resistance:  fixing our crumbling car-focused infrastructure.

Mind you, Chicago has more “shovel ready” green projects than the average city.  Mayor Daley has made it known that he plans to use some of the funds to weatherize thousands of home for energy efficiency, for example.  But we’re going to see a lot of jobs that aren’t really green at all.  The Washington Independent has a great piece on the breakdown of the green vs. old school jobs projected from the stimulus spending here.

My favorite statistic comes courtesy of Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress. Check this out: under current spending plans, roads and bridges hold a 4 to 1 funding advantage over mass transit. The stimulus bill shifts it to 3 to 2 advantage.

That’s a big improvement, and I think it will just be the start. The stimulus bill was always going to be tilted towards “shovel ready” projects, so the fact that 10% of it is for green projects is already a big win.  I think it’s safe to say that we’ll start seeing some serious funding for longer term green investments in this year’s budget.

Game On!
February 14, 2009, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Stimulus Bill

The Obama administration just plunked down $80 billion in green investment and tax cuts – 10% or so of the final stimulus bill – in a bid to show that environmentalism can save both polar bears AND American jobs. No doubt our very own Mayor Daley will make sure that Chicago gets a piece of the stimulus pie, and the smart money is that some of those funds will go to keeping Chicago on the path to becoming America’s Greenest City.

As a recent transplant from San Francisco and a green professional, I’m watching to see how the push for green jobs unfolds here in my new city.