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A big problem with the “Civilian Climate Corps”

By Monica Chen

On social media, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has been pushing for the “Civilian Climate Corps” and its inclusion in the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act. But more than a joint project between AmeriCorps and the Department of Labor, the proposed entity would cut into the work done by the National Parks system, as well as state and local government parks.

“To me the greatest risk is doing nothing on climate or doing too little,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the press conference pushing the Green New Deal in April, held in front of The Capitol.

“That is a greater political risk,” she added, according to CBS News.

Civilian Climate Corps has been planned to be large. But it’s not proposed as its own entity. It would be part of several federal agencies, but not give them oversight and giving no space for public input.

In her statements, Ocasio-Cortez has said the Civilian Climate Corps would cost $30 billion and hire 300,000 people, and would be administered by AmeriCorps and the Department of Labor. But on paper, in the Build Back Better legislation, the Civilian Climate Corps would cost $7.22 billion.

And when it was included in the BBB Act in November, AmeriCorps stayed quiet. It did not acknowledge that it would be part of the proposed new program, leaving many questions on its involvement.

The budget of the Civilian Climate Corps would be bigger than long-running federal agencies. The entire National Forest Service’s budget for fiscal year 2021 was $7.4 billion. If the new Civilian Climate Corps would be publicly and privately funded to the tune of $30 million, as AOC has said, then it would dwarf the National Forest Service and National Park Service combined.

The rundown from the BBB bill:

  • $2.25 billion for the Civilian Climate Corps to manage lands in the National Forest System.
  • Another $2.25 billion for Civilian Climate Corps to carry out projects on non-federal land, through the Forest Service state and private forestry mission areas, such as rural and urban conservation and tree-planting.

Here’s where it gets even scarier:

  • $1.7 billion for a National Park Service Civilian Climate Corps, to conduct conservation projects on all lands managed by the National Park Service. Conservation would mean the restoration or construction of “natural, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreation or scenic resources.”

It’s not just “restoring wetlands,” in the idyllic picture that Ocasio-Cortez has painted with the help of The Intercept. This is a large amount of funding to make changes to natural and historic places given to people who won’t be working under the NPS, who didn’t go to school to go into forestry or archeology, and like other AmeriCorps workers, will not stay in it for the long term.

And there’s more:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Civilian Climate Corps.: $400 million

Tribal Civilian Climate Corps.: $500 million

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Civilian Climate Corps.: $120 million

Questions:

What could the “Civilian Climate Corps” do on such a massive scale that isn’t already being managed well enough by the federal agencies it would be riding the coattails of?

Why should more public funds be spent hiring people who are not skilled at this work, and who didn’t go to school for this work and who have no interest in it, who are doing this on a temporary basis — than agencies with clear missions and more than a century of experience?

Who would manage and provide oversight to the Civilian Climate Corps? Would that be AmeriCorps which has no experience on this scale, or the Department of Labor which has no expertise on forest management? Or would it be AOC herself who has experience in neither?

Why should public funds be used to pay nonprofits when the existing federal agencies are doing a good enough job already?

Why would this new corps cut into the work of state and local parks and local government, taking it out of communities’ say so? How does that benefit communities?

The National Park Service has to provide an annual budget. Changes in National Parks are also open to public comments. People can voice concerns over how federal lands are managed. Where is that room for the general public, who will be paying for this new program, to have some input on what the Civilian Climate Corps wants to do?

People who work in the different agencies also have their own mission and history. The National Forest System was established in 1891. The National Park Service was established in 1916. Different eras, different history, different missions. Why should a new organization be allowed to butt into their work?

Lastly, we are not going through the Great Depression. There are jobs available. If there are natural disasters severe enough to need mobilization at the federal level, then the National Forest System and National Park Service have the experience and the resources to do that, not a new untrained, scattered, overpaid agency.

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