"From Coast to Coast – Skills for American Workers"

By Nancy Stoner

During his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the need to develop skills for American workers, to ensure our students and workers get the education and training they need so that we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow. This is particularly important right now, because as the President said, this is a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.

As EPA and its partners work to protect the environment and public health, we are also working to ensure that American workers have the skills to participate in the burgeoning environmental technology industry, which generated approximately $300 billion in revenues, $43.8 billion in exports, and supported almost 1.7 million jobs in 2008. I recently saw two outstanding examples in Atlanta and San Francisco.

First I visited the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, which works in environmental justice communities in the city. I toured the organization’s nature and educational center, where community members are engaged in various activities, such as trash removal from streams, rain barrel and rain garden construction to reduce water pollution and urban aquaculture and gardening. The alliance also provides educational activities for local teens, such as interpretive urban forest nature hikes and summer camp experiences. Partially supported by environmental justice and urban waters grants from EPA, these activities are exposing youths and local residents to new skills and career possibilities in environmental protection and community revitalization.

On the other side of the country in San Francisco, I visited a center that demonstrates green building, renewable energy and water protection. The EcoCenter at Heron’s Park, which was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, treats its wastewater using constructed wetlands and ultraviolet sterilization lamps. It also features a green roof, a plant-based wastewater treatment system, rainwater harvesting, and native landscaping, which conserve water and prevent stormwater runoff. I learned that the center partners with San Francisco City College, which provides technical education and a degree in sustainability. Also in an environmental justice community, the EcoCenter offers students and community members the opportunity to gain skills in environmental technology and explore future careers.

These efforts in Atlanta and San Francisco are precisely the type of approach the President is calling for – they will keep our environment, our economy and our people thriving for many generations to come.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water