— President Barack Obama on Friday announced a task force that will work to boost the economic fortunes of American's faltering middle class, and its first order of business will be to find ways to create more jobs in areas that pay well, reduce pollution and lessen America's reliance on foreign oil.
Have an idea? The administration wants to hear from you.
Obama campaigned heavily on creating a greener economy, and visited alternative energy companies, including wind turbine manufacturers and solar panel producers, on the campaign trail.
The president appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead the task force, which will hold monthly meetings, the first in Philadelphia on Feb. 27.
Obama said his economic stimulus plan now before Congress would double renewable energy to about 10 percent of the nation's total production, and would create 3 million jobs, many of those in green industries.
"With this we have a single, highly visible group with one single goal: to raise the living standards of the people who are the backbone of this country," Biden said at the White House ceremony to announce the task force.
From energy grid to insulated homes
Some industries are primed for green jobs: Utilities could enlist workers to build a more powerful and efficient energy grid, and developers could build more energy efficient homes, offices and schools by weatherizing them or building new structures to green codes.
Traditional jobs also could be retooled to go green. For instance, the automotive industry could build vehicles less dependant, or independent, of fossil fuels, which are tied to global warming, and oil from the Middle East.
Some Republican lawmakers have backed the focus on green jobs, but others question whether the government should be trying to direct the economy.
Wind and solar power showed tremendous growth in 2008 but it was fueled by soaring oil prices, which have since crashed. As a result, even those industries have seen layoffs.
Obama's stimulus package includes extending a tax credit for renewable energy companies, and even allowing them to apply for federal grants if they can't get enough financing to maximize the credits.
Backers say that stability would eventually create 250,000 jobs.
While the Senate is still working on its stimulus bill, the House this week passed much of Obama's package, approving $80 billion in clean energy funding: $38 billion for energy efficiency, $28 billion for renewable energy and $15 billion for public transit and clean transportation.
Backers say $6 billion for weatherization, which falls under energy efficiency, would generate 465,000 jobs and insulate 2 million homes.
Biden defended Obama's approach, saying green jobs "pay well, can't be outsourced and will help us move to a cleaner, more self-sufficient energy future."
A White House statement touted other advantages, including lower energy bills, which would leave Americans with more disposable income.
Public ideas sought
The task force includes a Web site, astrongmiddleclass.gov, where individuals can submit ideas. The group's members will include representatives from Cabinet agencies that deal with middle-class issues, including the departments of education, commerce, health and human services and labor.
Biden promised that all information from the task force "will be up on our Web site. None of this will happen behind closed doors."
Biden said other topics would follow the first meeting on green jobs. They include making retirement more secure, affordable child and elder care, improving workplace safety, and making college more affordable for American families.