Romney distorts truth on green jobs

Updated 10:07 AM EDT, Sat October 6, 2012

Story highlights

Van Jones: Mitt Romney was wrong to imply adminsitration spent $90 billion on solar, wind

He says $21 billion spent on solar/wind, the rest on other green energy initiatives

Jones says Romney was wrong to say investments were failures; success rate was high

He says it's a good thing Obama is against drilling on some public lands

Editor’s Note: Van Jones is president and founder of RebuildTheDream.com, an online platform for political innovation focused on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama’s green jobs advisor in 2009.

(CNN) —  

Wednesday night in Denver, Mitt Romney tried to imply that President Barack Obama had given $90 billion in tax breaks to solar and wind companies. After first noting (more accurately) that $90 billion went to the “green energy world,” Romney followed up with “don’t forget… you put $90 billion – like 50 years worth of breaks – into solar and wind.”

Personally, I wish the president had. But it just isn’t true.

The actual number was more like $21 billion. I know, because I helped oversee the administration’s efforts in this area.

Van Jones
Van Jones

The larger number refers to all of the investments in the 2009 stimulus package that the administration designated “green” in any way. The number included $6 billion for advanced batteries to make electric cars possible, $29 billion for energy efficiency and home retrofits, $3 billion for job training, and even $18 billion for transit and high speed rail. To pretend that all of that money went to solar and wind companies is ludicrous.

Worse, Romney alleged that the administration picked only “losers.” False.

First of all, many of these initiatives began under President George W. Bush, including some of the loan guarantee programs Romney likes to attack. With the exception of Solyndra, the track record for renewable energy investments is strong. In fact, the failure rate is lower than Congress anticipated when they created these programs – and, while we’re on the topic, higher than Romney’s 80% success rate at Bain Capital.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there are 3.1 million green jobs in the United States right now. This is a big success story for Obama. Today, there are 75,000 Americans employed in the wind energy business alone, compared with 81,000 coal miners. Today, the top three clean-tech states each employ more people in green jobs than the coal industry does nationwide. Romney is willing to jeopardize those jobs by arguing for killing the wind energy tax credit – while refusing to end subsidies and supports for the fossil fuel industry.

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(By the way: Coal employment is still high. Regulations that place more stringent public health standards on coal mining have actually created more jobs in coal mining industry, thanks to EPA. Even if the number of miners goes down at some point, I would blame dynamite, not government regulations. More and more, “mountaintop removal” is the standard practice for coal companies, and simply blowing up a mountain to scrape the coal out requires fewer workers. )

Romney is right that Obama has not been willing to open up some public lands for oil drilling and coal mining. That is a good thing. If it were left up to people like Romney, there might be oil rigs in places like the Grand Canyon. That approach not only desecrates our nation’s natural beauty, it is an unnecessary and excessive risk. The United States is on its way to being a net oil exporter, without jeopardizing the beauty and integrity of our public lands.

Both conservatives and liberals should be happy with Obama’s energy policies. Oil, coal and natural gas production is up, which should please the right. But energy efficiency and conservation is also up, which should please the left.

Romney – like his running mate, Paul Ryan – sounds great when he is spinning his yarns about America under Obama. But he knows precious little about the renewable energy industry and is relying on Tea Party talking points to score cheap points, at the expense of America’s clean energy entrepreneurs.

There is an upside: This fall, both Ryan and Romney have already created a full employment program – for fact checkers.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.