The Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Two major conservation proposals backed by Colorado lawmakers are one step closer to passage after being included in the House of Representatives’ version of Democrats’ high-stakes budget bill.
Rep. Joe Neguse’s plan for a new Climate Conservation Corps and Sen. Michael Bennet’s proposal to boost funding for forest-management and wildfire mitigation efforts are both included in Democrats’ Build Back Better Act following markup sessions by the House Agriculture and Labor committees on Thursday.
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“For over a year, we’ve been working to enlist a diverse, new generation of Americans to restore our public lands, suppress western wildfires and tackle the climate crisis,” Neguse said in a statement. “We’ve said from the beginning that to establish a Climate Conservation Corps, we must both invest in a new natural resources workforce to put more people to work on our public lands, and massively scale up our investments in programs run by the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service which will restore our forests, protect our watersheds and help us tackle catastrophic western wildfires.”
Backed by progressive environmental groups like the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the Climate Conservation Corps is modeled after the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed workers throughout the Great Depression on projects to improve America’s public lands.
The funding approved by House panels on Thursday includes $4.5 billion appropriated to the U.S. Forest Service for the new CCC, along with $2 billion to the Department of Labor to support the CCC through AmeriCorps and another $2.5 billion to expand existing DOL programs.
A key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda, the Build Back Better Act is a $3.5 trillion package of clean-energy reforms and social spending that is expected to be passed on a party-line vote through the budget reconciliation process. Simultaneously with House negotiations, Democrats are finalizing details of the bill in the Senate, where they hold a razor-thin 50-vote majority and key moderate swing votes like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have expressed discomfort with the size of the bill.
Also included in the House version of the bill is $40 billion for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior to boost efforts to mitigate wildfire risk and restore burn areas on public lands across the West. That’s a key component of a larger $60 billion forest-restoration proposal backed by Bennet, who applauded the House Agriculture Committee’s inclusion of the plan in its portion of the budget bill.
“This historic investment will create good-paying jobs across the Mountain West, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and safeguard our communities and our water supplies,” Bennet said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this important investment across the finish line.”
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