Obama's Labor pick a green-jobs advocate

Barack Obama has tapped Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat, to head the Department of Labor, a sign that creating green jobs will be a top priority in his administration's labor policies.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., President-elect Barack Obama's designate as Labor Secretary, listens as she is introduced at a news conference in Chicago Friday.

Barack Obama has tapped Rep. Hilda Solis, a California Democrat, to head the Department of Labor, a sign that creating green jobs will be a top priority in his administration's labor policies.

In a press release on her website announcing her acceptance of the nomination, Rep. Solis emphasized her support for labor groups and environmentalists:

“I look forward to working with President-elect Obama to reinvest in workforce training, build effective pipelines to provide at-risk youth and underserved communities with sustainable skills, and support high-growth industries by training the workers they need.
“This includes promoting green collar jobs.
“These are jobs that will provide economic security for working families while securing our energy supply and combating climate change.

Solis, a daughter of Nicaraguan and Mexican immigrants, authored the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which was intended to secure up to $125 million in funding for federal and state green job training programs, including a special provision for job training in poor communities. The bill was folded into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December 2007.

Those calling for the government to support an environmentally sustainable economy are cheering Obama's choice. Phil Angelides, the chair of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental advocates calling for a "clean energy revolution," called her "a visionary leader who understands that economic security for our families goes hand in hand with energy and national security":

“As President-elect Obama and Congress contemplate big new investments to address the nation’s energy and economic crises, there is no better person to ensure that our nation invests in good jobs while investing in clean energy.

Civil rights and environmental activist Van Jones, whose organization, Green for All, seeks to alleviate poverty through green jobs, says that he is "thrilled" at the prospect of a Labor Secretary who shares his vision:

She is the right secretary of labor to take advantage of a great opportunity not only to make America's economy stronger by making it greener, but also to make Americans living in poverty part of a revitalized middle class.

By most accounts, Solis will have her work cut out for her. As the Worldwatch Institute's Michael Renner observes, we happen to be in the midst of a global economic crisis, and environmental initiatives are often seen as conflicting with efforts to promote commerce.

How to rescue the economy from the Scylla and Charybdis of economic and environmental crisis will likely be a battleground for the new administration. Solis' solid support for labor and environmental causes may well clash with positions taken by others holding fast to more traditional, free-trade and pro-business views.

The New York Times notes that Solis's views on global trade are likely to differ with those of, Ron Kirk, Obama's pick for United States Trade Representative.

With his choices of a labor secretary and a trade representative, Mr. Obama appears to have sought to appeal to each side in the battle over free trade. Ms. Solis, a longtime labor advocate who is of Central American heritage, has been skeptical about free-trade agreements, while Mr. Kirk, a lawyer with a political bent, comes from the Texas establishment and has spoken out in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here's Solis talking about Green Jobs in an interview with the bipartisan foundation Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity during the presidential primary season. Note the "Hilary for President" button (hat tip to Grist's Kate Sheppard for the link):

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