CLEVELAND - Keynoting a town hall meeting on "Creating Green Jobs," AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka called for massive federal investment in clean energy industry and technology.
"A new generation of breakthrough technology is coming," he told the June 17 meeting here. "The question is whether it will be developed here or not."
The United States, he said, is planning to build 500 miles of high-speed rail. "That's good, but China, a country about the same size, is building 5,000 miles. China is taking it seriously."
He also noted that the world's largest wind farm is being built in Texas, "but the turbines are coming from Scandinavia."
Other speakers at the event, sponsored by the North Shore AFL-CIO, addressed urban mass transit, use of land freed up by the foreclosure crisis, a planned Lake Erie wind farm and the Emerald Cities program to weatherize buildings and homes.
The forum was held at Trinity Cathedral in connection with Trumka's invitation to speak at the City Club the next day.
Many of the 100 in attendance took part in a lively question period.
William Nix, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268, and Amanda Woodrum of the Policy Matters research institute decried the neglect and destruction of urban mass transit due to the funding crisis.
Instead of discontinuing routes and laying off workers, "we should be expanding and investing in public transit," said Nix. "Every public transit job is a green job. It is a reduction in carbon emission."
Ohio spends less than 1 percent of its budget on mass transit, Woodrum said. This amounts to $10 million a year distributed over 89 transit systems and is far less than neighboring states.
Jim Rokakis, Cuyahoga County treasurer, said Cleveland suffers the "worst foreclosure crisis in the United States" and "nobody knows when it will end." There are 35,000 vacant structures, he said. Most are worth "virtually nothing."
In response, the county established a land bank and has been deluged with properties from individuals, banks and Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association. While some of the homes can be rehabbed and made available for low-income people, most need to be demolished. The county, in cooperation with the regional sewer authority, hopes to create wetlands and "rain gardens" and use vacant land for urban farming.
"It's a way to take lemons to make lemonade," Rokakis said.
Chenelle Smith, Ohio coordinator of the labor-environmental Apollo Alliance, reported on the Green Emerald City Project, a collaboration of unions, environmental groups, the NAACP and the City of Cleveland, that is expecting to receive federal funds to retrofit 142,000 buildings.
"We will target minority communities and low-income workers," she said.
Lorry Wagner, president of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), described plans to launch a massive wind farm in Lake Erie. In an agreement signed with General Electric this month, a pilot project will build five turbines eight miles off Cleveland's shore. This would be the first wind energy production in North American waters and would create enough electricity to power 16,000 homes.
Wagner said the hope is that hundreds of turbines would be built in Lake Erie over the next decade, developing new industry and creating thousands of jobs in Ohio. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has co-sponsored a bill to promote offshore wind development by private industry and the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
In response to a question, Trumka, formerly president of the United Mine Workers, said that clean energy development need not conflict with coal, which accounts for 57 percent of electricity generated in the U.S.
"We must invest in clean coal technology," he said. "We have the ability to remove carbon in the generation of power. We have a 400-year usable supply of coal."
Photo: A rally at West Virginia's state capitol in Charleston, 2008. (greenforall.org cc 2.0)