The Wall Street Journal reported tonight that business leaders from energy, utility and clean tech sectors have protested Congress and the Obama administration's apparent decision to put an immigration bill ahead of a climate-clean energy bill in Congress. Some clean tech related stocks also lost market valuation today with this change of priorities.
The North American clean tech venture-funded market totaled about $3.4 billion in 2009, 62% of the global $5.6 billion market. Such investments are much more at risk if no action is taken on climate and energy in Congress, the likely result of immigration's new status at the top of the Congressional agenda.
The Wall Street Journal quoted the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, "The U.S. faces a critical moment that will determine whether we will be able to unleash billions in energy investments or remain mired in the economic status quo."
So where are the jobs and financial gains from an immigration bill? How about law enforcement? There may be an uptick of enforcement personnel hired, particularly in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. These jobs pay about $34-$39,000 on an annual basis and this agency has 19,000 jobs.
Border patrol jobs pay up to $50,000 and there are about 18,000 of these jobs. Let's say both those numbers of jobs double if immigration reform goes through Congress, with about 75,000 jobs, tops. Throw in an extra 50,000 jobs in other miscellaneous agencies or companies. So that's 125,000.
In contrast, clean tech's lowest earning jobs for those with a high school degree pay from $36,100 a year to $72,900 a year. Executive clean tech jobs can earn well over $200,000, with middle management opportunities for those with college degrees in the $60,000-$180,000 range.
The clean tech industry also is likely to produce far more jobs in sheer numbers. Last year, there were an estimated 770,000 clean tech jobs. These jobs are distributed across the nation (California, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas) whereas most immigration-related jobs are concentrated in southern border states (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, California only).
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla recently credited California's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) with encouraging innovation on the order of creating "ten Googles because of it."
So the move to the head of the queue in DC for immigration reform is obviously not about the economy. But shouldn't just about every major national initiative at least cast a sidelong glance at job-creation potential, especially if we want to continue on the road to recovery?
Then there are critical issues such air pollution, US lack of leadership in math and science, as well as national security implications from foreign energy dependence.
Our climate's abrupt change is, of course, also paramount, endangering health, the economy and the environment, on a global basis.
Sounds like there are some seriously misplaced priorities inside the Beltway.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.