Environmental Careers: Current Industry Trends, Part III
funds are roughly broken down as follows:
- $4 billion to help communities improve and monitor water quality, and build and maintain wastewater infrastructure
- $2 billion earmarked for drinking water infrastructure
- $100 million for competitive grants to companies to clean up former industrial and commercial sites (“brownfields”)
- $300 million for grants and loans to help regional, state and local governments, tribal agencies and nonprofit organizations with projects designed to reduce diesel emissions
- $600 million for the cleanup of hazardous sites
- $200 million for the cleanup of petroleum leaks from underground storage tanks.
April 2009, some of the above funds were distributed as follows:
- $1.7 million to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce diesel pollution ·
- $41 million to the Washington State Department of Health for water infrastructure projects
New jobs, of course, will be created to carry out the replacement and restoration of much of the environmental infrastructure in the United States, and to install new, environmentally sound technology. This infrastructure includes water and wastewater systems, transportation systems, wildlife habitat and restoration, and more. The U.S. water system alone will require an investment of more than $200 billion for upkeep and reconstruction over the next several decades.
The federal government also spends more than $100 billion per year in controlling the spread of nonnative plant and animal species. The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, proposed in spring 2008, would add certain invasive species to the list of flora and fauna whose importation into the United States is illegal.Finally, in 2007, a consortium of colleges and universities signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which aims to increase sustainability on college campuses through recycling, waste management, transportation, utilities, energy and education.
In the private sector, a series of initiatives under consideration would also require the development of new technology. U.S. energy researchers are promoting a carbon trading plan, while across the pond, the European Union has successfully launched the world’s first system to limit and trade carbon dioxide, ratcheting up pressure on the United States to catch up. Other initiatives include the widespread installation of wind turbines and solar panels, the conversion of methane collected from landfills into fuel for vehicles, and the marketing of environmental cleanup solutions to China, where pollution is an immense problem and the prospect of accelerated global warming holds potentially calamitous consequences in the near future.Local and state government initiatives, meanwhile, include the recycling of wastewater, the installation of power stations, the reduction of pollution from diesel vehicles and equipment by using hybrid trucks and retrofitting locomotives, and the imposition of stricter water use restriction (especially for irrigation). New York state has estimated that rebuilding clean water infrastructure and sewage treatment plants will cost $36.2 billion, while Connecticut is considering spending an estimated $5 billion for a similarly ambitious project.
One of the most important trends behind the growth of the environmental sector is the creation of organizations, foundations and grants whose mission is to support various environmental and conservation initiatives. The establishment of various federal, state and private initiatives and foundations to address climate change has made funding available for all sorts of environmental research and projects: In 2007, former President Bill Clinton launched the Clinton Climate Initiative “to create and advance solutions to climate change.” Bank of America has likewise announced a 10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative to address climate change, and entrepreneur/adventurer Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin empire, has created VirginUnite, a not-for-profit entrepreneurial foundation seeking long-term solutions to social and environmental problems worldwide. Such well-funded entities provide the financial means for organizations and companies of all types and sizes to pursue their goals.
Private investors are also funding companies that produce green technology. In Germany, for example, investors paid for a large percentage of the solar panels that were installed along a highway in Freibourg. The U.S. Global Environment Fund is a private equity company with more than $1 billion invested worldwide in businesses that “provide cost-effective solutions to environmental and energy challenges.”
The coming retirements of a large percentage of the current environmental and conservation workforce will also create job openings for those interested in these fields. The federal government’s environmental workforce is just under 200,000 people, spread out over such agencies as the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey. Estimates hold that between 30 and 50 percent of those workers will become eligible for retirement within the next few years.
The growth of the environmental job market has been steady, even through economic downturns. It is often called recession-proof due to the environmental industry’s basis on laws and regulations that are not influenced by economic fluctuations. Growth has slowed somewhat as the sector has matured, but the industry is projected to expand at a rate of 2 to 3 percent faster than many other economic sectors. Workers across all environmental divisions will be needed to help the nation transition to more environmentally friendly processes and products. New jobs will surface as America moves to develop and build alternative energy systems for residential and industrial use, to create more efficient transportation systems based on sustainable fuels, and to spearhead a host of other new and expanded national efforts as the nation engages in what is widely regarded as its greatest pressing challenge: To mold a functional society that lives in harmony with the natural world upon which it ultimately depends for survival.