Contact: Ed Potosnak

O: (609) 331-9922

C: (732) 991-7574

Here’s how to create jobs and rescue our climate | Opinion

President Biden’s transformative Build Back Better Agenda proposes investing $4.1 trillion to fix crumbling roads and bridges while also addressing two of our nation’s most pressing challenges: widening economic inequality and the worsening 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 takes us off the path of climate catastrophe.

As negotiations over the president’s bold infrastructure package continue in Washington, I am calling on our New Jersey members of Congress to fight hard to ensure the final law includes a new Civilian Climate Corps.

The idea of a Civilian Climate Corps goes back to the New Deal, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, to put 3 million unemployed young people to work at the height of the Great Recession to address the environmental catastrophe known as the Dust Bowl.

The CCC didn’t just create meaningful employment opportunities for families struggling to survive one of the worst economic calamities in recent history. It also left us a legacy of preserved land, from Cheesequake State Park to Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in the Pinelands, that have protected our drinking water and provided millions of families with recreational opportunities for nearly a century.

The new Civilian Climate Corps would operate from the same model, connecting young people to job opportunities in growing conservation and green energy-related fields through an apprenticeship approach modeled after the building trades unions.

Young people from across our state would have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in outdoor-focused careers dedicated to restoring wetlands, addressing the problem of invasive species, and mitigating the impacts of flooding and increasingly severe storms brought about 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 long-standing racial and socioeconomic disparities, focusing on communities, from Bridgeton to Paterson, that have been too often left behind.

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

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

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

Active across New Jersey, the Phillipsburg site alone has served more than 1,000 young men and women, helping 95% obtain a high school equivalency degree and transitioning them into employment or helping them enroll in college. A similar program, PowerCorps, employs 60 young people in Camden for a six-month program in which participants learn how to improve stormwater management and clean and green vacant lots. 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 focused on the Delaware River watershed, which serves over 13 million residents in one of the most densely populated regions in the country.

Under the careful stewardship of organizations like the William Penn Foundation, states and local governments in 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 annually in areas ranging from the Highlands to the Pinelands. In the Highlands alone, this innovative partnership has helped secure $17 million in public and private funding to protect an additional 2,600 acres of land while establishing buffers along streams to protect water quality and prevent erosion.

These types of programs would be turbocharged by an investment from the federal government, helping to create career pipelines 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 an important new federal program that would help address our climate crisis by investing in pathways to opportunity for underserved youth across our state.