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Generation Green

New Mexico’s youth may be the state’s best chance for transforming its economy—and future

September 30, 2009, 12:00 am

While the state—as well as cities such as Albuquerque—tends to focus largely on wooing large companies to locate in the region, Shrayas Jatkar, a Sierra Club building environmental communities conservation organizer, says green jobs should mean concentrating on energy conservation and efficiency right here at home. New Mexicans should focus on slimming energy use and cutting costs, he says, not only because it’s better in the long-run for the environment, but also because it saves money. New energy generation—even if it is something like a large-scale solar project—costs more than simply cutting back on the state’s vast energy usage.

“What stares me in the face the most is the lack of attention that’s being paid to the low-hanging fruit, which is energy efficiency,” he says, pointing out that weatherization of homes, commercial buildings, schools and government offices is a “huge industry that’s waiting to happen.” State and local governments haven’t really stepped up to the plate on that issue—nor have the state’s labor unions. “They should be jumping up and down, and grabbing jobs for their members, but they’re not,” he says. “And that’s pretty short-sighted given how big an industry this could be.”

As for local governments, the cash saved on operating costs in buildings could surely be put to better use, such as paying public employees.

“In many ways, the state of New Mexico and local governments are doing a great job doing things like promoting big solar industries to come to New Mexico—that’s fine, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those jobs come to New Mexico,” Jatkar says. But those same bundles of cash—in the form of incentives and tax breaks—that local governments use to entice industry, he says, “could be spent on many more jobs right away—we could have a well-trained energy workforce in New Mexico of people going out and doing energy audits, weatherizing and retrofitting buildings.”

Since heading to Washington DC earlier this year, freshman congressman Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, has been focusing on green jobs and strengthening New Mexico’s connection to green industries. His interest in the issue was cultivated, he says, during his time on the state’s Public Regulation Commission, on which he advocated for an increase in the state’s reliance upon renewable energy.

New Mexico can lead the nation in green energy and jobs, he says, thanks to the presence of solar and wind resources. The state must take full advantage, he says, of the expertise present within its national laboratories and universities. “This is something that is all-encompassing, and we need to do all we can be doing with small businesses and technology transfer around Sandia and Los Alamos,” Luján says. “The job opportunities that are being created—that have already been created and that are alive and well today—are about being smarter about the way we do things.”

New Mexico also is a proven leader in sustainability, he says.

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Charlotte Jusinski

Shrayas Jatkar, a Sierra Club conservation organizer, says the “low-hanging fruit” of green jobs centers around energy efficiency—weatherization of public buildings, for example.

Looking around northern New Mexico, where he grew up, families have lived sustainably for generations: They are smart about cultivating local foods, using water and energy wisely, and building practical homes.

“The way we built our homes for many, many years around New Mexico, we did it so they were cool in the summer and hot in the winter,” he says. “It’s important how much sustainability was a part of our daily life.”

As chairman of the House of Representative’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Green Economy and Renewable Energy Task Force, Luján offered an amendment to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that would provide funding for clean-energy job training and education programs at Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges. (Having passed the House, that bill still awaits a vote in the Senate.)

Luján also recently invited YouthWorks educational coordinator Bott-Lyons and Executive Director Melynn Schuyler, as well as two program graduates, Dominic Cantu and Douglas Rael, to speak before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual policy conference.

“Those two guys stole the show, telling people not to give up, telling us to make sure we’re including everyone and not just a select few,” he says. “And I’m looking to them to be a part of those solutions,” Luján says.

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