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Former White House adviser Van Jones lands new D.C. gig at liberal think tank

Van Jones, who was a target of conservative ire when he was at the White House, also plans to teach at Princeton University.
Van Jones, who was a target of conservative ire when he was at the White House, also plans to teach at Princeton University. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)
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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Van Jones, the environmental justice advocate who relinquished his post as a White House adviser five months ago after coming under fire from conservative activists, is reemerging on the public policy stage to push for green jobs.

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In his first interview since stepping down as President Obama's environmental adviser on Sept. 5, Jones said that a green jobs policy represents the best chance of both aiding poor Americans and bridging the political divide.

"When the food fight is over, there's one spot of clean common ground in American politics, and that is the need for us to be leading on energy, clean energy, and for us as a country to be more secure with all those jobs," Jones said Tuesday.

Jones, who has been consulting for companies and nonprofits on environmental issues, will start teaching at Princeton University in June and is rejoining the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, next month. On Friday, he will receive the NAACP's President's Award, for achievement in public service, the organization announced Tuesday.

His job at the White House Council on Environmental Quality sparked an uproar last fall when conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck publicized some of Jones's earlier comments and actions.

Beck attacked Jones for signing a petition in 2004 from the group 911Truth.org that questioned whether officials in President George W. Bush's administration "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war," and for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration, both of which Jones apologized for before resigning his post.

"I don't have any bitterness or anger about the situation," Jones said. "The good thing about being an American is you're free to think whatever you want, and you're also free to change your mind. That's my story. . . . God willing, I've got 10 or 20 years, 30 years, three decades more work to do. And it's my hope and belief that people will judge me based on that work."

Jones described himself in the interview as "one of the most effective bridge-builders in American politics" for bringing African American and Latino activists together with union members, environmentalists and renewable technology executives.

He will have a one-year joint appointment as a distinguished visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center for African American Studies and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he will teach a seminar on environmental and economic policy.

Eddie Glaude Jr., who chairs the Center for African American Studies, said in an interview that Princeton was eager to welcome "the leading voice in the environmental justice movement," even if it sparks some debate on campus.

"All of this is designed to create a vibrant intellectual environment for the exchange of ideas," said Glaude, adding that he had just hosted a visit by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele this week. "Universities are places for diverse voices to engage in conversation, relatively free from sanction and constraint, and to examine divergent ideas."

Jones will commute to Princeton from Washington, where he lives with his family, and will spearhead a "green opportunity initiative" as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Jones said he would spend his time at the think tank examining how to push for "green enterprise zones" that would encourage clean technology development in poor urban and rural areas; for an aggressive national renewable energy standard; and for a "Home Star" program that would provide federal incentives to make homes more energy-efficient.

"I'm getting back engaged because we have this huge jobs crisis. People are pulling their hair out, saying, 'What can we do?' And I think I can make a contribution," Jones said.

At this moment in the environmental movement, he said, "we're thinking about deep economic questions, and what we don't have a full grasp on is all the policy tools we're going to need to re-power the country, and to make sure we don't lose out to Asia and the jobs of the future, and to make sure places like Appalachia and Watts have a chance to be part of it."

John Podesta, CAP's president, called Jones "a pioneer in the effort to promote a clean, sustainable economy that works for all Americans," adding he's "proud" he will return to the think tank "to focus on creating economic opportunity in distressed communities."


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