Porta-Potties to Antiques: The Curious Journey of Obama's 'Green Jobs'

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), questioning a panel today about how the Labor Department counts "green jobs," noted that he recently visited a huge wind farm and found that it employed just 12 people.

But the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing also revealed that the department has some interesting ideas about exactly what constitutes a green job.

"You'll recall the DOL received $500 million in stimulus funds to train workers for so-called green skills," said Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). "But an audit by the inspector general found the program to be an utter failure and represented a tremendous loss to the taxpayer."

And the Labor Department, he charged, is "using the guise of green jobs to justify ongoing funding of the president's green agenda."

What counts as green? Newspaper reporters who write on environmental issues. Think-tank wonks who study environmental policy. College professors teaching about the environment and lobbyists are counted.

"There's a lot of green with lobbyists; none of it should be counted as an environmentally green job," Issa quipped.

Even welders and sheet-metal workers, he noted, are suddenly colored green "after hundreds of years of being around as a profession."

"There are 33 times as many so-called green jobs in the septic tank -- and you can't make these things up, guys -- septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry as there are in solar energy and utility areas," Issa said.

"Using these tactics to manipulate the number to mislead the American people is nothing short of embarrassing and a betrayal of the standards that President Obama established for his administration," the chairman added.

Particularly telling was an exchange Issa had with John Galvin, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about what does and does not count as one of the "3.1 million jobs constantly touted by this administration," as noted by the chairman.

Issa first asked Galvin whether sweeping the floor in a green-energy facility counted as a green job.

When the commissioner hedged on his answer, Issa said he could tell Galvin was not "a delighted witness."

"I asked you a question; please answer it," Issa said.

"Yes," Galvin answered.

Galvin also answered "yes" to a string of occupations listed by Issa that the administration considers green jobs.

These include school bus driver, the guy who gases up the school bus, and a clerk at a bicycle repair job.

And it also includes someone who works at an antique dealer, someone who sells rare books and manuscripts, or someone who works at the Salvation Army thrift shop or a consignment store. Those jobs are now considered "recycling."

"Do garbagemen have green jobs?" Issa asked.

"Yes," Galvin responded.

"How significant is it when they claim 3.1 million jobs and it seems like these are not significant at all?" Issa said, noting that "porta-potty emptying" is now considered a green job. "You weren't training for 'magical new jobs,' you were training for jobs that existed."

Witnesses also noted an emphasis on green jobs -- however defined and eligible for tax preferences or subsidies because of that designation -- has driven other jobs overseas.

"I'd like to argue that we should focus on job creation rather than green jobs because we have over 12 million unemployed. Our broadest rate of unemployment is 14.8 percent," said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at The Manhattan Institute.

"Much emphasis on green has driven jobs overseas. The ban on incandescent light bulbs has resulted in the closure of those factories and the new CFLs, the new fluorescents are all made in China. So there are green jobs, but green jobs for China," she said.

"Many solar panels, wind turbines that are required by law are made overseas in places such as China."

Later in the hearing, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) went after Furchtgott-Roth for "evidently" not agreeing with the Obama administration's green-energy agenda.

"But as you know, today's hearing is not about that policy," Clay said. "The hearing title plainly says that the hearing is about DOL's reporting of jobs figures, which includes the definition and the number of green jobs calculated by the Bureau of Labor Stats."

Issa noted that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, formerly a California congresswoman, once sponsored legislation to count green jobs that was rolled into the stimulus goals.

"So the very idea that this is not political, when in fact, our former colleague is responsible for it and now oversees making sure that the numbers come out, I think we have to be honest," Issa said.

"It is all about politics. It has always been all about politics."

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who sponsored the Green Jobs Act with Solis, countered that it was about training people to take available jobs and not creating them.

"There have been about 100 new renewable energy and energy efficiency manufacturing plants that opened in this country since 2009, a number of them in my district that were telling us they needed people able to do those jobs," Tierney said.

"So I make that distinction on that and I guess the only ones not interested in making sure that the green energy and energy efficiencies industries thrive are the Republican Party because I note the emphasis the Department of Defense is putting on green energy right now for a number of reasons, safety of our troops being one," he said before being cut short by the chairman.

"You may not disparage the intent of members of either party or any individuals here," Issa said.

"Did you feel disparaged Mr. Chairman?" Tierney shot back, commencing to badger the chairman about how he felt disparaged as the chairman accused him of violating House rules.

"To allege that we don't care about energy when in fact what we're seeing is people emptying sewage out of porta-potties being counted as green jobs," Issa responded.

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), reflecting on his Baltimore district, said that when it comes down to the numbers, his constituents don't care if the jobs are green or purple.

"I think of all the young men and women I see every day and they just want a job," Cummings said. "They're not trying to get to Disneyworld, they're just trying to get to the local park with their family."