Romney Disses Green Jobs, But Republican Governors Love Them

If you only listened to the speeches of candidates running for federal office, you might think that there’s a stark partisan divide over federal support for cleantech innovation, and that all Republicans see the idea of “green jobs” as a mirage concocted by the Obama Administration.

And you wouldn’t be misreading the campaign statements: Mitt Romney’s own website bluntly asserts that “’green’ technologies are typically far too expensive to compete in the marketplace.” It goes on to claim that “for every ‘green job’ created there are actually more jobs destroyed.”

But the rhetoric doesn’t match the the reality in many states, at least according to a report released this week by DBL Investors, a cleantech-focused venture fund in San Francisco. While Republican candidates continue to use Solyndra’s implosion as a bludgeon against President Obama—arguing that it’s wrong to steer federal energy investments toward “politically favored approaches,” to use the Romney campaign’s term—many GOP governors and mayors are working as hard as they can to bring green jobs and federal energy dollars to their regions, the report finds.

“It turns out that some of the leading Republican governors are very pro-cleantech,” says Nancy Pfund, managing partner at DBL Investors and co-author of the report. “The governors didn’t get the memo that said cleantech is really controversial.”

One part of the puzzle may be that cleantech provides thousands of real jobs in many Republican-dominated states. Pfund and Michael Lazar, a Yale MBA candidate who was a summer associate at DBL this year, compared state-by-state data on green jobs from the Brookings Institution with voting data from the Federal Election Commission. They found that of the 10 states with the fastest growth in green jobs, eight are either red states or swing states.

Map of the top 17 U.S. states in green job growth

The top 17 states in green job growth. Red = Republican, blue = Democratic, yellow = swing state.

Alaska led the way in adding cleantech jobs, showing a 98 percent increase between 2003 and 2010. (Green jobs in the 49th state increased from 8,439 in 2003 to 16,682 in 2010. The Brookings study defined green jobs as those that produce goods or services with an environmental benefit; the category includes jobs in industries such as organic farming, energy efficiency, waste management, pollution reduction, and renewable energy, but does not include jobs in areas such as shale-gas extraction or “clean coal.”) Also among the top 10 green-jobs performers were North Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, which all went Republican in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, as well as swing states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and North Carolina.

Republican-leaning states, especially small ones, are some of the most dependent on green jobs, the report notes. In Alaska, green jobs make up 5.1 percent of all jobs; in Montana, 3.3 percent, Tennessee, 2.9 percent. Among the 10 states where green jobs make up the largest percentage of total jobs, six are both red and small (at least population-wise): Alaska, Montana, Tennessee, Idaho, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Interestingly, the report points out that the coal industry employs 136,000 people nationally. Three states employ more people than that in the cleantech sector alone (California has 318,000, New York has 185,000, and Texas has 144,000).

Pfund says the partners at DBL Investors were inspired to take a closer look at state-level support for cleantech after Mississippi governor Haley Barbour arranged an attractive loan package for one of DBL’s portfolio companies, Milpitas, CA-based Soladigm. The offer persuaded the maker of energy-efficient windows to set up its manufacturing facility in Olive Branch, MS, on the state’s northern border.

“Haley Barbour is one of the rock stars of the Republican Party, and when I found out he was doing this with several companies, I thought ‘Wow, this is very different from what we’re hearing out of Congress,’” Pfund says. “Then when the election season kicked into gear and there was so much cleantech bashing, I thought, ‘Let’s look at this more closely.’”

The report points out that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Texas Governor Rick Perry have all actively recruited cleantech jobs to their states and have supported state and federal tax credits to bolster solar and wind energy and other renewables. “As cleantech grows and creates these great jobs, it is really post-partisan in nature,” Pfund says. “The wind blows in a lot of red and blue states and the sun shines just about everywhere. Politicians need to recognize that and stop playing political football with cleantech.”

Of course, having put tens of millions of its own dollars into cleantech companies like BrightSource, Solar City, eMeter, and Solaria, DBL has an obvious interest in countering the idea that these companies should fend for themselves, without the support of federal loans or tax incentives.

But cleantech companies and their investors might not be the only ones hurt by Republican rhetoric. In states with lots of cleantech workers, the attacks could backfire on the candidates themselves, Pfund warns. “Be careful what you wish for—there maybe a lot of cleantech voters in your back yard,” she says.

In the end, Pfund says she doubts that Romney and other GOP candidates are really as dismissive of green technology as they claim to be. “When Solyndra happened, it became a very visible, very easy way to target the president,” she says. “But if you dig deeper, the Department of Energy’s investment track record is looking quite good. But that’s not really the agenda of the people talking about Solyndra. They don’t care about whether the program is working as it should—what they are interested in right now is their own candidate.”

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • B Wilcox

    You do a real service in reporting inconsistencies in public discourse. Politicians survive by making themselves visible, and journalism serves a vital function in democracy when you disseminate context alongside their trumpeted pronouncements.

  • warcaster

    Yikes. So much for the “free market” principle of the Republicans. To Romney it’s all about who donated money to him in the campaign.

  • djatl

    You should disclose what classifies a job as a “green” job. I’d heard that the term is being misused.