Green Ball: Eco-Friendly Glamour

Besides becoming the first black president, Barack Obama may well be the greenest. He says he wants to "green up" the energy economy. Some people who want to help him do that came to the Green Inaugural Ball Monday night which was one of four environmentally-themed events scheduled for inauguration weekend.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In addition to being the first black president, Barack Obama wants to be the greenest president. He says he wants to green up the energy economy. Some people who hope to help him came to the Green Inaugural Ball last night in Washington, D.C., the environmental elite who partied side by side with corporate bigwigs. Expectations are high, despite a recession that could interfere with a green makeover. And NPR's Christopher Joyce was at the celebration.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The first Green Inaugural Ball - no, actually it's one of at least three in Washington this week - is warming up at the National Portrait Gallery. Several hundred environmental movers and shakers are here to celebrate the ascension of an eco-friendly Barack Obama to the presidency. People are munching organic hors d'oeuvres and leaving as small a carbon footprint as the organizers could manage. We're going to go talk to some of them right now.

I found Amy Christiansen(ph) who's on the organizing committee for the Green Ball.

Ms. AMY CHRISTIANSEN (Organizing Committee Member, Green Ball): Most of us, our day jobs are spending our time working on the environment. So, of course, we spent a great deal of effort to make sure that what we're doing here has the least footprint, the least impact as possible. Everything from what kind of food we ordered, to make sure that we had as many vegetarian and vegan options, because of all the energy and water inputs that go into that; to how people could get here, to make sure that it was on Metro, very accessible, and that we supported people being able to get here in that way; to the flowers that we're using being reused by people afterward.

JOYCE: Sure, there was carbon in evidence. Big limos, for example, were two deep at the entrance. Christiansen acknowledged that being green can become a sort of competitive sport. Someone can always claim to be greener. But for one night, in one place, everyone was singing from the same hymnal, green energy and green jobs, if the new administration can find the money to pay for it. That's something that concerns Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Mr. RHONE RESCH (President, Solar Energy Industries Association): I mean we're in a recession. There's no doubt about it. And the solar industry is getting as hard, if not harder than most of the other industries in this country. So what we need in place is an economic recovery bill. And so as we step back and look at the bailout that they did for Wall Street - $800 billion - one would think there's an opportunity here to put 10 or 20 or 30 billion dollars in the energy industry to help ensure that we create these jobs, starting this next month.

JOYCE: If Congress parcels out a big chunk of that stimulus money for environmental projects, some of the companies sponsoring this Green Ball will take some. Among them are Wal-Mart, the Dow Corning Company, and the American Gas Association - not organizations or companies normally thought of as waving the green flag. And if the recession casts doubt on how a green revolution can be paid for, well, for some businesses green may seem like the only place where there is money. So, argues Amy Argento(ph) who works for Brightworks, a company that helps design green buildings.

Ms. AMY ARGENTO (Brightworks): Sometimes we'll talk to clients, like if you don't do this, your option might be to go out of business. I think that this is the way that things are heading, and I think a lot of corporations are jumping on the bandwagon.

JOYCE: How many that bandwagon can hold will depend a lot on how the economy fares under the new administration. At least one speaker at the Green Ball was confident that it would fare well enough.

(Soundbite of speech)

Former Vice President AL GORE (Climate Change Activist): Tomorrow, a new day begins.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

JOYCE: Al Gore, former vice president and climate change guru.

Former Vice President GORE: We prove tomorrow, at high noon, that in the United States of America, political will is indeed a renewable resource.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

JOYCE: Once the hangovers have worn off and Barack Obama has moved into the White House, Congress will have to decide how much of the new president's green package the taxpayer can afford. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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