Civilian body could create jobs, build roads and mitigate our climate catastrophe | Opinion

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By Ed Potosnak

President Biden’s transformational Build Back Better program proposes to invest $ 4.1 trillion to repair crumbling roads and bridges while addressing two of our nation’s most pressing challenges: deepening economic inequalities and worsening of the climate crisis.

It aims to create millions of well-paying union jobs to help create a more sustainable 21st century economy, powered by clean, renewable energy that reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions and moves us away from the path of disaster. climate.

As negotiations on the President’s bold infrastructure package continue in Washington, I call on our New Jersey congressional delegation to fight hard to ensure the final law includes a new civilian climate body.

The idea of ​​a Civilian Climate Corps dates back to the New Deal, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, to put 3 million unemployed youth to work during the height of the Great Depression to cope with the environmental disaster known as the dust bowl.

The CCC has not only created meaningful employment opportunities for families struggling to survive one of the worst economic calamities in recent history. It has also left us a legacy of unspoiled land, from Cheesequake State Park to the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in the Pinelands, which has protected our drinking water and provided millions of families with recreational opportunities. for almost a century.

The new Civilian Climate Corps would operate from the same model, connecting young people to employment opportunities in growing fields related to conservation and green energy through a learning approach modeled on trades unions. of the building.

Young people across our state would have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in outdoor-oriented careers dedicated to restoring wetlands, addressing invasive species, and mitigating the impacts of floods and storms. increasingly violent storms caused by climate change.

And unlike the original program, which deepened divisions in our country by excluding women and limiting opportunities for black and brown youth to participate, the new Civilian Climate Corps would be dedicated to addressing racial and socio-economic disparities. long-standing, focusing on communities – from Bridgeton to Paterson – that have too often been left behind.

President Biden is proposing to spend $ 10 billion initially to launch the program, and the Delaware Valley, including New Jersey, is expected to be at the top of the list of regions receiving funding.

Our state is ready to take full advantage of these proposed investments, which would build on leading-edge workforce development and environmental stewardship initiatives that should serve as a national model.

The New Jersey Youth Corps, founded in 1988, is one of the largest youth service and conservation corps in the United States, providing young adults from underserved communities who have not completed high school, l ‘access to full-time community service training that prepares them for careers in conservation.

Active across New Jersey, the Phillipsburg site alone has served over 1,000 young men and women, helping 95% of them earn a high school equivalency diploma and enter the world. employment or help them enroll in college. A similar program, PowerCorps, employs 60 youth in Camden for a six-month program in which participants learn how to improve stormwater management and clean up and green wasteland. Alumni receive intensive mentoring that helps translate the skills they learned on the job into a related career.

At the same time, our region has led the way in coordinating efforts to preserve and protect our environment, especially in the Delaware River watershed, which serves more than 13 million people in one of the most densely populated country.

Under the careful leadership of organizations such as the William Penn Foundation, the states and local governments of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have worked together to forge unique public-private partnerships.

This includes the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which protects 10,000 acres per year in areas ranging from the Highlands to the Pinelands. In the Highlands alone, this innovative partnership has leveraged $ 17 million in public and private funding to protect an additional 2,600 acres of land while establishing buffer zones along waterways to protect the quality of the land. water and prevent erosion.

These types of programs would be energized by an investment from the federal government, helping to create career paths in underserved communities by investing in projects that make our state more resilient and sustainable.

After years of delayed action on climate change, it’s time to dream big.

We look forward to working with Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez and our Congressional delegation, including Representatives Frank Pallone, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski, Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer, to ensure the passage of a Important new federal program that would help address our climate crisis by investing in pathways to opportunities for underserved youth in our state.

Ed Potosnak is the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to elect environmental champions, hold public officials to account, and support laws that protect our environment.

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