ARI SHAPIRO, host:
We've been hearing about the economic stimulus package that Congress is working on. It could approach $1 trillion. So how much of that money will go to boost green technologies? And how much should? Tamara Keith has the story.
TAMARA KEITH: President-elect Barack Obama talked about the promise of green jobs in a November radio address as he was making his final push in the race for the presidency.
(Soundbite of radio address)
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: We'll invest $15 billion a year over the next decade in renewable energy, creating five million new green jobs that pay well, can't be outsourced and help end our dependence on foreign oil.
KEITH: It's not clear just how much funding the economic stimulus package will set aside for renewable energy. But California Senator Barbara Boxer says she hopes that in addition to projects like road-building, the package will include tax incentives and loan guarantees that will boost green industries and create green jobs.
Representative BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): A tax incentive so people will put solar rooftops on. They'll invest in solar wind and geothermal. We want to see people going to work putting solar roofs on schools.
KEITH: Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. She says some of these green jobs could be ramped up quickly, like the solar installers. But she says investing in green industries is also about shaping the future of the American economy.
Rep. BOXER: You not only get people to work, but you also save money in the end and fight global warming and become energy independent. Those are the kinds of things I want to see.
KEITH: At a committee briefing Boxer held yesterday in Washington, green-tech evangelist John Doerr called for stimulus money to be used to update the nation's electrical grid. He said a modern grid that could better handle wind and solar power would enable a green technology boom. Doerr is a venture capitalist who backed Google and Amazon.com in their early days. He says the green revolution has much greater job-creating potential than the Internet revolution did.
Mr. JOHN DOERR (Green-Tech Evangelist): There were no installers. There were no maintenance people. There were no construction jobs. That's not true in green technology. In green technology you make things, and you're dealing with batteries and biofuels and solar cells.
KEITH: But not everyone is convinced that green jobs are the answer to today's problems.
Mr. KENNETH GREEN: (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): They don't qualify as a stimulus. This is an attempt to sort of Shanghai the stimulus money
KEITH: Kenneth Green is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a fiscally conservative think tank. He says investing in renewable energy is a long-term proposition, and a successful economic stimulus needs to have an immediate impact.
Mr. GREEN: The people need to be hiring right away and building projects right away. And there are very few environmental projects you can think of that are in that category in terms of laying on more windmill building, laying on more solar panel building. To ramp up those industries very quickly is probably not possible.
KEITH: And economist David Kreutzer at the conservative Heritage Foundation isn't convinced it's even a good idea.
Mr. DAVID KREUTZER (Economist, Heritage Foundation): A windmill might be good. Weatherizing a building might be good. But we need to look at the costs as well as the benefits and compare them. Is it worth the money that we're spending?
KEITH: Kreutzer says if market forces are a guide, then the answer is green jobs don't pencil out.
Mr. KREUTZER: The fact that people aren't willing to spend the money to weatherize their own buildings says that it's not worth the money. Now, has the federal government - have they decided that it's now worth it, where it wasn't worth it six months ago when they had more money? That seems odd.
KEITH: When it comes to the economic stimulus package, one person's pork is another person's bridge to the future. For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith.