The Monitor's View

The gray in 'green jobs'

Everyone from patent lawyers for washing machines to security guards in green buildings wants a ride on this gravy train.

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Kermit the Frog was wrong. It is easy being green.

The word can mean almost anything as both federal and state governments rush to spend billions on "green jobs" – with sometimes very loose definitions.

In the US alone, $85 billion will be spent this year on green energy and transport as part of the economic stimulus. The obvious job definitions – such as solar-cell installer, wind-turbine maker, hydro-dam constructor, or home insulator – are no problem.

But beyond that, watch out.

Everyone from patent lawyers for washing machines to security guards in green buildings wants to ride on this gravy train of heavy subsidies.

In a report last year, the United Nations spelled out types of green jobs – saying even rickshaws can be a "sustainable alternative" to cars.

President Obama's "green jobs" czar defines green-collar jobs as blue-collar work upgraded to respect the environment.

Sometimes green comes in shades of timing. A recent report by the US Conference of Mayors, for instance, paints jobs in the nuclear power industry as green – but only current ones, not those in future atomic plants. Bureaucrats who merely administer environmental programs hold green jobs. And the report predicts, somehow quite accurately, exactly how many green jobs will be created in three decades hence. Example: 1,246 in Greenville, N.C.

Any worker making a car with a level of fuel efficiency that exceeds federal standards by 10 percent is in a green job, according to the American Solar Energy Society. Any chemist who develops a less-caustic cleaning fluid is in the "clean energy" business, finds a Pew Charitable Trusts study.

Some studies see corn-based ethanol and nuclear power as renewable energy sources. Others do not.

The range of estimates for the number of green jobs in the coming decade can vary by 50 percent or more.

All this arbitrariness in defining "green" or "clean" can lead to government waste and fraud. And if resources are diverted in the wrong direction, efforts to curb global warming may falter.

With Mr. Obama set to triple the amount of alternative energy in the next three years, he will need to take the gray out of defining the green in green jobs.

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