Environmentalists urge keeping climate-oriented job and training program in budget bill

By: - November 19, 2021 5:18 am

A crew of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) youth in 1938 in Wisconsin. The CCC has inspired a proposal for a Civilian Climate Corps, part of the Build Back Better budget act currently in Congress. (Wisconsin Historial Society)

A $30 billion proposal to create a new “Civilian Climate Corps” in the U.S. offers a chance to address climate change while also building skills and creating living wage jobs for people in need of them, advocates say.

The idea, inspired by the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that boosted employment and resulted in nature-related amenities all over the country during the Great Depression, is part of the federal Build Back Better reconciliation bill now being debated in Congress, said Jeremy Gragert, an Eau Claire city council member and also a Wisconsin representative for the National Wildlife Federation, which held a virtual news conference to promote the proposal Thursday.

Gragert described the measure as one to “get people back to work, but let’s get them to do stuff that’s transformational.”

While some elements of Build Back Better — BBB for short — have at times been reported in or out of the final legislation, Gragert said Thursday that the new CCC and its focus on climate appears to be more secure in its inclusion.

“We want to start the conversation now about how to prioritize funding that does come our way” if the legislation is enacted, Gragert said.

The climate corps language calls for living-wage jobs that would include benefits so that they can be sustainable for the people who take them.

Where the original CCC largely focused on rural areas and primarily employed white men, Gragert said, the climate corps proposal takes “a much more equitable approach,” with an objective of providing opportunities to people of color as well and in cities, not just the country.

The possibilities are wide-ranging. Gragert and other participants in the Zoom call said they could include rural as well as urban projects. Addressing runoff due to extreme weather events in the city, rehabilitating rural streams and other water bodies, expanding the ability of municipalities to maintain their trees and other green spaces and expanding the workforce of people with skills to increase renewable energy infrastructure are just a handful of potential projects.

Another benefit of the plan is that it is timed to run over several years, so that projects can be designed and implemented carefully, Gragert said.

Participants in the Zoom call were all from Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district, where U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) is “a key vote” on the Build Back Better legislation, Gagert said, and participants all expressed the hope that Kind — who has decided to leave Congress after his current term — will embrace the legislation.

Update: The House passed the Build Back Better legislation early Friday. All three Wisconsin Democrats, including Kind, voted for the measure; the state’s Republican Congress members all voted against it. [Updated 11/19/2021, 9:40 a.m.]

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.