President Barack Obama’s “green jobs” initiatives suffered another major blow late Monday, as the nonprofit National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado, announced a plan to lay off roughly 10 percent of its staff through a voluntary buy-out plan.
According to the Denver Post, the lab plans to eliminate between 100 and 150 of its 1,350 jobs. The Obama administration supported the NREL in 2009 with roughly $200 million in stimulus grants. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu visited Golden in May 2009 to promote the NREL as a beneficiary of those funds.
At the time, the Associated Press reported that the stimulus grants included $68 million to build a demonstration model of an energy-efficient office building; $19.2 million for solar, geothermal and fuel cell equipment; $10 million for testing and evaluation of wind technology; and $45 million to research and test drive-train systems for wind turbines.
The lab’s mission is to handle U.S. Department of Energy research and development programs.
NREL spokesman Bob Noun blames Congress for the organization’s failures. The Denver Post reports that he believes the gridlocked U.S. Congress forced the NREL to find $8 million in new budgetary savings.
“We don’t see any budget scenario where the lab doesn’t face budget cuts,” Noun said. “We just want to be proactive in managing the budget so we continue our core mission.”
Amy Oliver of Colorado’s conservative Independence Institute said one way to look at these potential “green jobs” shortcomings is that the NREL is exaggerating its claims. Oliver told The Daily Caller that the government-funded lab has seen a surge in government funding in recent years.
“Their funding for 2008 was $328 million,” Oliver said in a phone interview. “In 2010 it was $536.5 million. They’ve had a 64 percent increase in their funding during the Obama administration.”
Oliver acknowledges that the $8 million NREL projects in savings is a significant amount, and told TheDC she was impressed to learn that its leadership would even consider cutting their budget. But, she says, while the saved $8 million doesn’t represent a real budget cut, it’s a better outcome than more spending.
Oliver also suggested that the NREL layoffs may indicate another failure of the Obama administration’s “green jobs” agenda. Candidate Obama pledged in 2008 that he would add 5 million green jobs to the economy, but Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C. now say the White House has stretched what it defines as a “green job” in order to pad its numbers.
At one recent House oversight committee hearing, Republicans prodded Obama’s Labor secretary Hilda Solis to explain why a bus driver who happens to drive a vehicle powered by “green” or “renewable” energy is classified by Obama administration officials as holding a “green job.” Solis struggled with the answer, instead arguing with Florida GOP Rep. Connie Mack, who asked her the question.
Oliver told TheDC that ordinary jobs with peripheral connections to “renewable energy” are frequently misclassified as “green jobs” in Colorado. With Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in charge, a strong environmental lobby using local, state and federal government to protect its interests, and news media unwilling to push for answers, Oliver said progressive causes have abused taxpayer dollars at institutions like NREL for years.
Because NREL is technically a private non-profit organization, and not a governmental agency, its financial and operational records aren’t public records. The lab is also exempt from compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and state and local open-records laws.