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Originally published Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 4:49 PM

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Guest columnist

Federal partnership promises a smarter, cleaner way to create jobs

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities joins the forces of the federal departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. The effort is designed to create jobs through energy-efficiency investments and other approaches.

Special to The Times

AT this moment in our history, nothing is more important than creating jobs. President Obama in his State of the Union address detailed strategies from tax cuts for small businesses to targeted clean-energy investments that will put Americans to work and jump-start a 21st-century economy.

To ensure those proposals have the biggest impact, communities must have what they need to grow sustainably. We need communities where residents have easy access to jobs; where there are clean, reliable options for transportation to work and school; where housing is affordable and energy efficient; and where clean and renewable energy is abundant.

For the first time, the federal government has embraced these principles of smart growth. The Obama Administration recognizes that making urban, suburban and rural communities more livable is essential to our nation's shared economic future.

Last June, the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created an interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. For the first time, our agencies will work hand-in-hand to spur the creation of affordable homes and thriving businesses in clean, healthy communities.

Tearing down the "silos" between our government agencies will also make it easier to partner with cities and states and provide them with federal resources. We recognize the best ideas for nurturing sustainable economic growth often come from local innovations. But the federal government has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to help.

That's why HUD is launching its Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, to provide $140 million in planning and challenge grants to communities across the country so they can be laboratories for innovation. The office will also fund a promising new initiative to help homeowners lower their monthly utility bills — and support clean energy — by allowing them to roll the cost of home-energy upgrades into their mortgage.

DOT is proposing $527 million in the budget for an ambitious new livability initiative. Its Office of Livable Communities will be a focal point for initiatives such as expanding transit in low-income neighborhoods. It will fund a grant program to help state and local transportation agencies provide more transportation choices that spur economic development.

And EPA is strengthening its work on critical environmental issues with HUD, DOT, state officials and local communities through its Office of Sustainable Communities. These partnerships will ensure that unprecedented investments in clean-water infrastructure support existing communities, create jobs, protect vital resources like the Puget Sound, and strengthen our country's foundation for prosperity.

Our partnership is an ambitious effort to advance the future of transportation and infrastructure and build a cleaner, greener America. Together, we can help communities create jobs at the same time they reduce our dependence on foreign oil and shrink our carbon footprint. With energy-efficient homes and green transportation, we can help them cut utility bills for homes, schools and businesses, and help drivers spend less at the pump. Most important of all, we can help communities not only strengthen our economy today, but make it more competitive for the years ahead.

Indeed, while the government can set the pace for change and provide critical funding support, this initiative is not ours alone. We are looking to emulate Seattle and regions across America that for years have provided leadership and support, innovative ideas and partnerships, and a long-term commitment to building livable, economically competitive communities. Working together, we can create jobs today and provide consumers and communities with the sustainable housing and transportation choices they need to build a stronger future for our country.

Ray LaHood is the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Lisa P. Jackson is the administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Shaun Donovan is the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. All are in Seattle Thursday attending the 9th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference.

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