Renew Energy – the “biofuels industry leader for innovation and efficiency” boasting the largest ethanol plant in Wisconsin – has just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Their struggle, along with the eminent demise of other leading ethanol producers and distributors, begs the question: How can we have a Green Collar Economy with a shrinking, besieged green sector? Perhaps more critical: Are we depending on the right resources and jobs to create a Green Collar Economy?
With over $100 billion dollars allocated to “green projects” in the proposed economic stimulus package, green jobs have the potential to replace jobs in declining sectors such as manufacturing and other occupations that are being shipped overseas.
Let’s look at ethanol. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) can be manufactured and used as a biofuel alternative to gasoline, mostly for use in cars. It is conventionally referred to as a renewable resource that is easy to manufacture and process because it can be made from common crops like corn (although it doesn’t come without it’s fair share of criticism and risk – namely the food vs. fuel argument.). Less than two months ago, The Renewable Fuels Association, at the request of President Obama, submitted a statement highlighting how the ethanol industry provides green jobs. The RFA stated that more than 238,000 green jobs were created last year because of the ethanol industry. This boded especially well for parts of the country like Wisconsin, where rural communities are struggling under the weight of the economic crisis and jobs are in short supply and high demand.
For now, the ethanol-producing industry is failing in Wisconsin and the other Midwestern states who lead the country in ethanol production. But with the rising price of gasoline – and the finite availability of that resource coupled with the desire for energy independence and a healthier environment- will biofuel production find its way back into the green jobs sector? Should we keep pouring resources into the biofuel industry or focus more intently on other energy producing sources?
General Biodiesel here in Seattle offers a promising alternative that doesn’t come with the risks associated with ethanol biofuels. Instead of using raw materials, like corn, they utilize waste cooking oil and animal fat as sources for fuel: sources that are renewable and sustainable, or a “waste to energy” model. Although wind turbines currently account for only one percent of energy production in the United States, Washington ranks fifth in the country and is poised to create thousands of new jobs as the sector expands.
Maybe when we put our time, money and energy into resources that are truly renewable and sustainable, we can create the green economy we envision.