Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 Study on Green Jobs impact of water treatment infrastructure in the US suggests path to Green Jobs Strategy in North and Central America

A technical report on the projected job creation impacts of recent Clean Water Act rules released by the Water Environment Foundation in September 2014 projects that investments in the water utility and waste water infrastructure will result in close to 300,000 jobs in 30 communities in the US over the next decade.  These jobs range from those requiring just a high school education (sales, production, maintenance, construction, administration) to those requiring college and advanced level training and education (civil and environmental engineering).  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy highlighted the connection between sustainable economic and environmental development during her speech at the Water Environment Foundation's conference in New Orleans on September 29th.

It is no wonder that the environmental policy community is focusing on the job creation and economic impacts of water infrastructure improvements in the wake of ongoing impacts of the 2008 financial crash and ensuing economic crisis.  Necessary improvements to our nation's water and waste water treatment infrastructure will not happen unless state legislatures are convinced that these improvements are financially feasible.  This focus on job creation by the environmental policy community demonstrates once again that environmental protections can be good for the workforce if they are implemented hand in hand with effective education, labor market and training policies.  The report falls short by not incorporating racial and gender analysis more explicitly into its discussion, however.

What stands out about the communities analyzed in the report is that many are located in areas of high unemployment among African Americans and other minorities - particularly the Washington, DC metro area, Camden, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City Missouri, Baltimore and Atlanta.  A February 2013 article by Sherrell Dorsey on green jobs for African Americans in Black Enterprise magazine highlighted the 14% level of unemployment in the African American community and noted that African Americans in the US may be unable to participate in the green economy without the necessary education, training and access.  Dorsey quoted former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson who pointed out that promoting a public health perspective as well as access to training and creative, non-traditional educational programs will have an impact on African American participation in the the green economy.  An April 2013 article by Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd in Ebony magazine emphasized that African Americans will be excluded from a "new generation of professionals that understand changing weather patterns, climate science, wind and solar engineering, environmental sustainability, and mitigation-adaptation strategies" without improved representation in science, technical, engineering and mathematical careers.  Access to green jobs is also an issue for women (US DOL program on Women and the Green Economy) and Latinos (NCLR study on overlap between green economy and Latino communities) in the US.  In addition to highlighting high unemployment and a desire for access for green jobs in their communities, Native Americans are leaders in US movement to build a green economy through initiatives like the Navajo Green Economy Trust, solar and wind energy development on native lands and green development initiatives in native communities.

The connection between environmental protection, water treatment and other utility infrastructure improvement and job creation has international and regional as well as national implications.  This is especially the case in the NAFTA and CAFTA-DR regions, where viable regional institutions have been established to address environmental issues in North America (North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation) and Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR Secretariat for Environmental Matters) but not to address regional labor and employment issues.  Despite arguments made in free trade policy circles that agreements like the NAFTA and CAFTA-DR are supposed to improve economies and create jobs, viable regional institutions to help member states design regional job creation strategies, educational policies and improved labor law enforcement do not exist under NAFTA and CAFTA-DR.  The tri-national labor secretariat established under the NAFTA was ineffectual in (and, arguably, disempowered from) assisting member states in designing regional employment policies and job creation strategies.*  Tying job creation to environmental issues such as water infrastructure development within the regional frameworks under the NACEC and the CAFTA-DR SEM may be the most effective way to get jobs on regional policy agendas in North and Central America.  It is also a way to tap innovative regional policy and idea generation through the NACEC's Joint Public Advisory Committee mechanism, to generate excitement about environmental infrastructure development and a new Green Jobs strategy for North and Central America.

Just as a Green Jobs strategy can be a way to secure financing for important improvements to water and waste water treatment infrastructure and afford access to employment for under-served groups in the US, a Green Jobs strategy can have similar impacts while opening a sustainable path to regional job creation strategies in North and Central America.  International advocates can rely on job creation and economic improvement arguments to spur public and private investment in infrastructure improvements in Latin America and elsewhere. According to an October 2013 article by Juan José Gregorio in BNAmericas, inadequate water and waste water treatment facilities in Latin America - particularly in Central American countries and to a lesser extent in Mexico - pose both public health and environmental risks.  Close to $20 billion in financing is needed to bring water and waste water treatment up to par in Latin America.  Considering that $23 billion in investment to improve and maintain water and waste water treatment facilities in just 25% of the US covered in WEF's study, $20 billion does not seem to be a huge amount of money to have such positive impacts throughout Latin America.  As demonstrated by the WEF's study, investment in improvement of water and waste water treatment facilities can contribute not only to positive environmental outcomes, but to positive economic and jobs outcomes as well. 

The example of WEF's 2014 study sets a clear path for regional policy makers in North and Central America.  Regional institutions such as the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation and Central American Secretariat on Environmental Matters can be important mechanisms for establishing a Green Jobs initiative in North and Central America that has a positive impact on public health, the environment and employment.  North and Central American Green Jobs strategies will not be effective, however, unless regional policy makers generate and incorporate innovative ideas and programs to ensure that members of local communities have access to creative training and educational programs to equip them to take advantage of Green Job opportunities.  Thus, an effective regional Jobs Strategy in North and Central America will require the involvement of environmentalists, labor market experts, utility infrastructure experts, education policy specialists as well as community groups, labor, human rights, environmental and women's rights activists and advocates.

*  In fact, the NACLC closed in August 2010.  In the wake of the lack of viability of sustainable regional labor cooperation and policy development under the NAFTA, negotiators of the CAFTA-DR decided not to establish a labor cooperation institution similar to the CAFTA-DR Secretariat for Environmental Matters.


Aspinwall, Mark, Side EffectsMexican Governance Under NAFTA’s Labor and Environmental Agreements, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 2013.

Biggers, Jeff, "Native America and Green Jobs: Spring Wind Rising from Sand Creek," The Huffington Post, February 2, 2009, available at

Dorsey, Sherrell, "Few See a Path to Green Industry for African Americans," Black Enterprise, February 20, 2013, available at

Gregorio, Juan José, "Latin America needs US$19.6bn in water treatment plants, IDB expert says," BNAmericas, October 14, 2013, available at

LaDuke, Winona, Supporting a Green Future in Native American Communities, Dream of a Nation, available at

McDermott, Mat, "We Want Renewable Energy & Green Jobs Too: Native American Groups Tell Obama," Tree Hugger, January 7, 2009, available at

Shepherd, J. Marshall, "Why African Americans May be Left Out of the 21st Century Job Market," Ebony, April 15, 2013, available at

Singley, Catherine, Bright Green:  Five Metropolitan Areas Where the Latino Workforce and the Clean Economy Overlap, National Center for La Raza, February 2013, available at
Water Research Foundation, National Economic and Labor Impacts of the Water Utility Sector, September 2014, available at