House Republicans want to ax the Civilian Climate Corps, citing concerns that the New Deal-modeled program will siphon desperately needed workers from the private sector while creating a federally funded battalion of Greta Thunbergs.
Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee killed last week a proposed amendment by Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, to strike the $3.5 billion allocation from the reconciliation budget, but House Republicans may have another opportunity at Thursday’s mark-up.
“There is absolutely no reason to funnel money toward a program like this when so many of our industries are already struggling to find workers,” said Ms. Boebert at the hearing. “The duties and responsibilities of the CCC are vague and undefined. Whether it was intentional or a result from negligence is unclear. Either way, it should not be allowed.”
President Biden called in January for creating such a corps, which would “put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, and advance environmental justice – all while paving the way for good-paying, union jobs,” according to the White House fact sheet.
Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said he wanted to know how the program would play out on the ground.
“This bureaucracy of young people would also address the changing climate: What exactly does that mean?” he asked. “Does it mean a taxpayer-funded community organizing effort, sending these young climate pioneers into every neighborhood to report who’s watering their lawns? Whose fireplace is smoking? Who’s spreading forbidden climate misinformation?”
He added that “a few years ago, such fears would have seemed absurd, but not so much these days. So I’d ask, what exactly is this new bureaucracy going to accomplish?”
Democrats swung back by stressing the need to tackle long-neglected deferred-maintenance projects at national parks and forest management as wildfires consume millions of acres in the dry, overgrown Western forests.
Rep. Joe Neguse, Colorado Democrat, who sponsored one of several bills to create such a corps, referred to the damage done by the 2020 Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires, the two largest wildfires in state history, both of which occurred in his district.
He cited “the desperate need for treatments in our forests, for mitigation, for resiliency, and for folks to be able to come in and do that work.”
“This triple C program would invest billions of dollars towards doing this critical mitigation work in our natural forests, addressing deferred maintenance in our national parks, causes that I believe that many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle support,” Mr. Neguse said.
Indeed, House Republicans have long championed forest management, but they said that the problem isn’t a lack of workers, it’s an abundance of red tape, bureaucratic dithering and environmental regulations.
“We don’t need people from the civilian corps, we need the people that are in the proper places to make those decisions and make them appropriately and make them now,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican. “Our forests are burning, and it’s because we have neglected them, and their putting civilians in place here is just another aberration.”
Mr. McClintock said such a bureaucracy would be redundant, given that “we’ve got a great many conservation corps already.”
“We’ve got the youth conservation corps and public land corps, on top of these you can add similar state programs, like the California conservation corps, and to those then you have the sprawling bureaucracies of the Park Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management — need I go on?” he asked. “The problem is not that we don’t have enough bureaucracies, it’s that we have too many.”
The proposed climate corps has mobilized advocates on both sides of the issue. Leading the pro-CCC camp is the Sunrise Movement, which said the jobs created “will include more traditional climate careers, but should also include jobs that help communities become strong and more resilient.”
“Your CCC career could be caring for the elderly, creating graphics to help promote climate policies in your town or city, community and child education, organizing localized food programs, or building out new community systems to limit carbon emissions and pollution in your community,” said Sunrise Movement spokesperson Ellen Sciales in an April 20 post.
That’s a far cry from the exhausting forestry work undertaken by the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“The folks that are actually out cleaning the forest, they cannot find anyone who wants to work for them,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, Oregon Republican. “They cannot find anybody that actually wants to go out into the hot, smoky, dirty environment and actually do this work, even though they’re offering more than the $15 an hour suggested in this legislation.”
He added that “I’m not inclined to support a program that builds our youth into those who come around and lecture us.”
Ranking member Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas said that “the original CCC was put in place when unemployment rates were through the roof, we were experiencing a depression. Today, employers cannot find workers.”
“My grandfather worked for the CCC, and I remember him telling me how terrible it was, how back-breaking the work was, and he was a hard worker,” he said. “I’ll tell you, the first thing he did when he could get a job working at the aluminum smelter, he took that job at the aluminum smelter.”
What has changed in the last 90 years is the urgency to upgrade infrastructure to handle the demands of rising global temperatures, said Democrats.
“Today the scenes of flooding from Ida in my district and across New York City are devastating,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, New York Democrat. “There has never been a greater need to build climate resilient infrastructure and to have a strong Climate Civilian Corps. That will create a government jobs program putting a new generation of Americans to work on fighting the climate crisis.”
Chairman Raul Grijalva said that the proposed corps “is not just about brawn,” calling the jobs created “an investment in the management and the stewardship of our public lands and waters.”
“Yes, jobs in these areas require people to get their hands dirty, Mr. Westerman, but it also requires them to know what they’re doing, and that gives us a full spectrum in the profession,” said Mr. Grijalva. “This is the backfill for the future.”
The National Taxpayers Union called the program “duplicative,” given that federal and tribal agencies “already receive billions of dollars to do exactly what the CCC aims to do. The CCC would just become another wasteful, overlapping program that already plagues the federal budget.”
Marc Morano, the publisher of the skeptical Climate Depot, said that the real question was whether the CCC would “lose the ‘R’ in ‘Climate Corps’ and become ‘Climate Cops’ and start admonishing people, knocking hamburgers out of their mouths at a park or telling them they shouldn’t own a pet dog?”
“This could go in a whole bunch of different ways,” he said. “But bottom line, this has nothing to do with the climate. It’s not going to stop the Biden administration from trying to push the UN Paris Agreement on us. It’s just another nonsense, government job instead of actually creating wealth and giving people real opportunities.”
Corrected from earlier: Rep. Bruce Westerman represents Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, not Oklahoma as originally reported.
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