Forty Appalachia organizations have signed a letter urging Congress to prioritize Appalachian communities by creating a modern Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the budget reconciliation package, known as Build Back Better. They’re pushing for $20 billion for the CCC to be included in $555 million in spending for clean energy, included in the package.
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The letter, signed by labor, environmental, and religious groups, was written by ReImagine Appalachia. The group, a coalition of nonprofits in the region, believes a new CCC can save Appalachia’s economy and address climate change.
“The CCC is an incredible opportunity to target natural infrastructure investments into coal country for reforesting Appalachia, restoring wetlands, remediating brownfields and repairing our damaged lands,” according to the letter.
The original Civilian Conservation Corps, also known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” was a work relief program for unemployed, unmarried men from ages 18-25 from 1933 to 1942. The program was part of The New Deal developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. During its 9-year existence, the CCC planted millions of trees and developed national and state parks as we know them today.
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Jobs for Appalachia
Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a policy group based in Pennsylvania, is a co-author of the letter. He says a modern CCC would provide green jobs to Appalachia deeply affected by high poverty and unemployment rates.
“Employment has shrunk quite dramatically from about 95% in the late 1960s to about 86% today… Our estimates are that our climate action plan [CCC] would create nearly 250,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone,” he said.
The groups are advocating for fair wages and other ways to help disadvantaged workers, like those who have been recently incarcerated or who are struggling with the current opioid epidemic.
“It’s got to be $15 an hour plus benefits,” said Herzenburg. “You want to link it to apprenticeship into the unionized trades so people can get a career…You also want to place a priority on returning citizens [from incarceration], and they, even more than others, face a real struggle in terms of getting a decent job.”
Grounded Strategies, a non-profit group that restores underutilized land for distressed communities in Pittsburgh, is one of the groups that signed the letter. In an email statement, Grounded Strategies said it did so “because we advocate for high quality, publicly accessible greenspace and for those who invest their time in creating such places for all to share.”
Slim chance at a deal
The $2-trillion budget reconciliation package, which includes the $555 in clean energy spending, cannot move forward without the support of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is also Chairman of Senate Energy and Natural Resources. He halted negotiations back in December when he said he could not support the proposal.
Things don’t look much better now. Manchin said last week that the package is not a main priority. Instead, he’s focused on striking an energy deal with Republicans. Democrats aim to have negotiations done by Memorial Day.