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Guest opinion

Hernandez: Congress should fund new Civilian Climate Corps

Rep. Alma Hernandez is a Democrat from LD 3 in the Arizona House of Representatives.

41,000 jobs for Arizonans, more than $58 million in investments for the state, and improvements to the Grand Canyon, Tucson Mountain Park, Coronado National Forest, and communities statewide: the impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the early 20th century was long-lasting for our state. The work of the original CCC provided economic benefits during the Great Depression while building long-lasting and crucial upgrades to improve our access to nature.

Right now, we are experiencing similar challenges as our state and country did back then: economic uncertainty in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a climate crisis that threatens life as we know it, and decaying parks, waterways, and other natural landmarks that Arizonans rely on.

As Congress debates bold investments in conservation and infrastructure, they have the opportunity to tackle these challenges by replicating the successes of the CCC to benefit a new generation. A well-funded Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) will put young Arizonans to work serving their communities, boosting our economy and taking action to curb the climate crisis.

The Climate Corps is an idea, based on the original CCC, that has been considered for a few years but has recently gained momentum for its extraordinary potential. It is one of the best possible investments that our federal government can make in communities across the country. That's especially true for many Hispanic families, as this program will create jobs ensuring our communities have access to the outdoor traditions we pass down through generations.

I was born and raised on the South Side of Tucson, and our city's cavernous mountains and canyons surrounded me on all sides. As a result, I grew up with a great appreciation for Arizona's outdoors.

I also saw firsthand the racist policies that prevent so many young people of color from accessing opportunities for advancement.

Our communities need jobs, and our families need clean, healthy outdoor places to grow and play. With the introduction of the CCC, we could create tens of thousands of new jobs that help expand access to the great outdoors, especially in communities that have historically faced barriers getting to green spaces.

President Joe Biden has asked Congress to create and robustly fund the CCC, and this critical investment has broad support from the public and among elected officials.

The new CCC has the potential to be truly impactful for our country in confronting the crises of climate change and environmental injustice while providing steady jobs and improvements to iconic landscapes. By investing in outdoor stewardship, the CCC will bolster community resilience and advance environmental justice for communities disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Here in Arizona, this is of particular importance to Hispanic communities who disproportionately face impacts of excruciating extreme heat and drought.

This is why it is so urgent that Congress not only creates the CCC, but also supports it with a bold investment so it can thrive.

Think of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans going to work to improve their communities, building leadership, a strong work ethic, and new economic opportunities along the way. Moreover, it can instill a new trust in the ability of our government to again work for the public. Having seen my friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues wonder if their government really cares about them, the CCC could answer with a resounding "yes."

Congress is currently debating how to go about making the CCC a reality. I call on Arizona's Senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, to take the bold action needed to tackle the climate crisis, employ our youth, and conserve our public lands and wildlife by investing in a CCC in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. President Biden has been clear that he wants this done to meet his bold climate and conservation agenda. Now is our chance.

We have nothing short of a moral obligation to make our planet and our country a better, more livable place for future generations. The Civilian Climate Corps recognizes that when we fulfill that obligation, we also create opportunities to strengthen our communities, our economy, and our democracy.

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