New Bill Would Create a Conservation Job Corps Run By Interior and USDA

A legislative proposal unveiled on Tuesday would create a jobs program overseen by the Interior and Agriculture departments to tackle conservation projects. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the “RENEW Conservation Corps Act” to mirror President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed in early June that the U.S. economy entered into a recession in February due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Durbin’s bill is one of several introduced over the last few months to create civilian jobs programs for matters such as expanding the public health workforce and safely administering elections during the pandemic. 

“America’s outdoor spaces have provided recreation for generations, and this year we’ve seen how important and valuable they’ve been to countless Americans looking for a respite,” Durbin said in a statement on Wednesday. “This bill is a straightforward approach to creating 1 million jobs that can address maintenance and restoration of our greatest natural resources and recreation areas… [and] is an investment to protect the beauty of America’s natural treasures.”

If enacted, the bill would authorize $55.8 billion over a five-year period for 1 million Americans over the age of 16 to work on conservation projects nationwide. These could involve: planting trees, restoring wildlife habitats and wetlands, controlling invasive species, conducting fish and wildlife surveys, monitoring water quality and other projects deemed necessary by the Interior and USDA secretaries. 

Participants’ terms would be at least 12 weeks, but no more than a year. They would be paid what is “appropriate for the type of work” they do, but no less than $15 per hour and could receive up to a $5,500 credit for post-secondary education and training for future jobs. The bill says that the Interior and USDA secretaries and their program partners must ensure that “participants reflect the demographics of the area” where they are working.

“Access to public and natural spaces is an essential part of our individual and collective health and well-being,” said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands, a conservation organization in the Chicago area. “With the RENEW Conservation Corps Act, we will welcome a new generation of jobs that restore and preserve our natural lands and waters, and create more inclusive and inviting places for all to enjoy and connect with nature.”

The legislation would also create a national council that will meet annually to assess the jobs program and its possible projects. Members will include top officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Bureau of Land Management; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Office of Personnel Management; Environmental Protection Agency; Council on Environmental Quality; and the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

The bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. There is not a companion version in the House yet. 

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