The bipartisan Senate infrastructure deal passed by President Joe Biden appears to be a failure. Instead of taxing the rich to modernize America’s roads, water systems, and other infrastructure, it promotes various forms of privatization. A summary published at the end of June on how new construction will be financed includes what is called “public-private partnerships, ”which are essentially high-interest loans to state and local governments that deliver huge returns to Wall Street banks, private equity investors, and multinational finance companies. An idea of marginal politics called “asset recycling ”, which encourage states and cities to sell public assets outright. Back 2009, Chicago has leased its parking meters to investors as far away as Abu Dhabi for at least $1 billion undervalued, which has forced locals to foot the bill ever since. Asset recycling is this type of diet on steroids.
If Biden is committed to tackling both climate change and inequality, which he says he is– then encouraging privatization is counterproductive. Privatize infrastructure makes it more difficult to adapt to global warming– because it gives decision-making power to companies and investors. This increases fees and rates for residents– because these companies and investors must make a profit. And that creates a race to the bottom on workers’ wages– because contract workers are less likely to be union members.
But all is not lost. Biden has a chance to provide workers and a healthy climate if he listens to progressives when it comes to a promising proposal that could potentially create millions of green, well-paying public jobs: the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).
The CCC is said to be a government employment program that puts people to work to directly address the climate crisis. First imagined by the youth-led Sunrise movement, the program would aim To “conserve and restore public lands and waters, strengthen the resilience of communities, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation and address climate change.
Its impact could be huge, especially if the final product echoes a proposal released in April by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Their proposed CCC would create 1.5 million jobs that would generate at least $15 per hour, provide comprehensive health care coverage and offer support beyond the workplace, such as housing and education grants.
The good news is that while Biden’s bipartisan deal doesn’t include money for the CCC, the president has in fact already laid out the agenda in a January executive order, and his original U.S. employment plan called for $ten billion dollars in funding for this. The bad news is that the proposed funding was only a fraction of what is needed. Biden’s proposal would only create Up to 20,000 jobs per year– far from the global need.
That’s why progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And Ocasio-Cortez, alongside groups like Sunrise and the National Wildlife Federation, are pushing for a much larger and larger infrastructure investment than the bipartite agreement, to include substantial funding for the CCC.
One avenue will be to pressure Biden to keep his word when it comes to public jobs. At the end of June, the president signed a decree directing the federal government to encourage diversity and inclusion in its workforce. If a CCC becomes a reality, it must avoid the mistakes made by its predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established in 1933.
The first corps accomplished a great deal. For nine years he employed some 3 million young men to fight forest fires, build more 100,000 kilometers of roads and trails, build 318,000 dams, connect telephone lines through mountain passes, plant 3 billion trees, and much more. But it suffered the same affliction as many New Deal-era programs primarily excluding black Americans.
While the bill authorizing the program stated that “no discrimination will be made on the basis of race, color or creed ”, black workers were separated into different camps and often given more difficult, less prestigious tasks. They also encountered resistance as they worked their way up through the administrative hierarchy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Women were not allowed to register at all, but instead provided opportunities with Eleanor Roosevelt “She-She-She ”, widely despised and benefiting only some 8,500 people.
This is why a new CCC must target the communities most affected by the intersection of Covid-19, the climate and the unemployment crises. As In these times‘the editors wrote in April, “The new Civilian Climate Corps must center black, brown, Asian and indigenous communities, which have been disproportionately affected by environmental injustice (and Covid-19). ”
Public employment has long provided stable jobs for people of color, especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black Americans won 28 percent new federal government jobs in the 1960s, while inventing only ten percent of the US population. Speak 1980sand 1990s, black officials were twice as likely as their private sector counterparts to receive promotions in managerial and technical positions. For both men and women, the median salary earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
For now, with the Senate still debating the paltry bipartisan infrastructure deal, it looks like CCC funding will need to find its place in a future budget reconciliation package, which would not require the passage of Republican votes. “I want to enlist a new generation of climate conservation and resilience workers like FDR has done with the US Work Plan to Preserve Our Landscape with the Civilian Conservation Corps, ”Biden noted
in July 7 speech in Illinois. He clarified that the CCC, along with other policies like two free years of community college, will not be part of the bipartisan agreement. “In Washington, they call it a reconciliation bill, ”he said of the plan to implement other important parts of his agenda.
Sanders is currently developing language for such a bill, and plans to include increase in CCC funding (apparently $50 billion in addition to Biden’s original proposal). Making such an investment a reality will likely require climate organizers and advocates to keep the pressure on lawmakers in Washington not to give up on their environmental promises.
People need jobs. We need to modernize our infrastructure to fight climate change. The federal government is the only institution with sufficient coordination and resources to kill two birds with one stone. A well-funded CCC is the way to go.