Mississippi ranks 45th in the country in a “green jobs” study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mississippi may want to consider improving that ranking considering the fact that states with higher green jobs rankings fared better during the recession, and the green jobs sector is growing faster than others.
“I found there is a statistically significant relationship between how green an industry is and its job growth over the past 10 years and projected job growth over the next 10 years,” said the author of the study, EPI senior policy analyst Ethan Pollack. “Greener industries are growing faster than dirtier industries.”
The green jobs category includes not just jobs in manufacturing alternative-energy and energy-efficient devices, but a wide range of other types of employment. Pollack said occupations such as garbage collectors, sewage workers, construction workers, household-appliance manufacturers and bus drivers are as integral to the green economy as solar-panel installers or wind-turbine manufacturers.
When ranking the various states Pollack found there is rarely a single story about why a state ranks well or poorly. In Mississippi, there were several main factors: The state doesn’t have a lot of green construction, the state and monopoly electrical companies have fewer programs for weatherization of buildings, and less work is done renovating existing buildings to make them greener. Also, Mississippi manufacturing, transportation and warehousing are dirtier than the national average.
Mississippi utilities, which includes electric, gas, wastewater treatment and garbagerecycling, are 10 percent green, which is close to the national average of 12 percent. “That is not too poor compared to the national average, which is interesting,” Pollack said. “However, manufacturing in Mississippi is much less green than the national manufacturing sector. It is less than half as green as the overall national average. Mississippi has an industry mix that is very similar to the national average. The reason Mississippi tends to be dirtier is because its versions of those industries tend to be dirtier.”
Pollack said Mississippi has a lot of potential to be greener. State public policy could play a major role in that.
“The potential is there,” he said. “It just requires political action and political will, a political system that puts a priority on green economic growth, and growth that is sustainable instead of growth that over time is chipping away from the resources future generations will depend on. The dirty economic model is one in which we are undercutting the very building blocks we need for sustained long-term growth. It is by definition unsustainable. That is why we push for sustainable economic development so future generations can experience the same type of prosperity that we have.”
Pollock said there are four major building blocks in the economy: Things (equipment); people (education, training skills); ideas (knowledge capital, innovation); and, environmental capital (resources). If you destroy the environmental capital, you can destroy the economy.
While Mississippi hasn’t made alternative-energy developments as big a priority as some other states, the state did provide incentives for a new Stion solar panel manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg, and former President Bill Clinton attended the grand opening of the GreenTech Automotive in July in Horn Lake, which plans to produce a plug-in electric vehicle.
Tax credits for alternative energy expiring at the end of the year have been blamed for layoffs in other states. A windmill manufacturing facility in Little Rock, Ark., for example, laid off half of its workers earlier this year.
“There is substantial uncertainty with tax credits for alternative energy expiring at the end of the year,” Pollack said. “This is something that Congress does a really horrible job at. They give renewable tax credits, let them expire and then put them back. Often Congress waits until the last minute and renews them. That has created enormous uncertainty in the past decade.
“Congress should just make these things permanent, or find some other way to help the renewable industry develop. The point is doing this see saw tax credits policy really harms the industry. This industry is making decisions for the next couple of decades. They are looking at a much longer term. To not know what tax credits are going to be in a couple months makes it that much more difficult to find out how projects will shake out in a few decades.”
Pollack said it is possible the extension of the alternative energy tax credits will get stuck in the larger debate over the budget, deficits and tax policy. The end of the year is also bringing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts along with sequestering that would provide across the board cuts in both military and civilian spending unless Congress passes a plan to reduce the federal deficit.
Is growth of green jobs important to the international competitiveness of the U.S.? Yes and no.
“Yes, we know these are going to be big and growing industries,” he said. “Generally, we want to make sure our economy is aligned with where markets going in the future. We don’t want to make the same kind of mistake that the big car companies made in Detroit going in big with SUVs and then sales of those suffered because of the oil crunch. Detroit made a full bet on gas-guzzlers and lost out big. Foreign car companies had a better sense of where the market was going, and changed where they were going to reflect that. We definitely want to be ready for this future and make sure industries integral to global green economy are located here in the U.S.
“That said, if other countries are also building solar panels and windmills, that is also a good thing. We shouldn’t necessarily think their gain is our loss. Everyone can benefit from that. We should not only encourage our own green industries, but we should look favorably on green industries abroad. They are moving faster than us.
They are showing us the way. We need to at least follow, if not lead.”
The green jobs report can be found at the website for EPI, www.epi.org.