Conservation can create jobs: why America needs green stimulus
ConservationNWAdmin / May 27, 2020 / Legislation
Congress should invest in green jobs to stimulate the economy and overcome this national crisis
By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director
No generation should have to endure a health and economic tragedy of the scale of this COVID-19 pandemic. But endure it we must. Can we find in this crisis opportunities for transformative progress, so society may emerge from the fallout stronger? I am convinced we can. Some of these opportunities are directly in line with Conservation Northwest’s mission for our nation’s natural heritage, including more resilient forests, healthier wildlife populations, and highways that are safer for both drivers and animals.
A month ago, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, called for a dramatic and essential shift in how nations should approach recovering from the economic collapse caused by the COVID -19 pandemic.
“Where taxpayers’ money is used to rescue businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth,” said Guterres. “It must not be bailing out outdated, polluting, carbon-intensive industries.” I find this call to be sensible, plausible and inspiring. And I think it’s going to happen.
Plans for such a transformative recovery are already being made in Congress. To avoid a prolonged depression in America, the federal government absolutely must spend dizzying sums. Economists across the political spectrum agree that this is essential to gird the economy, as consumers lack the funds, sense of confidence and safety to spend, and states and municipalities lack the tax revenues to do their share. Only the federal government can borrow—at today’s low rates—enough to make a difference. Barring a political breakdown, Congress will spend. The question is on what.
Recently, 79 Democratic Members of Congress sent a letter to their leadership calling for $125 billion in green spending to be included in an economic stimulus package. I’m incredibly proud that all seven of Washington’s Democratic representatives signed that letter. The investments the letter calls for make total sense in terms of job production, public benefits, and results that will make America stronger and more sustainable in the future.
Of course we want to invest in alternative energy projects, which have far greater impact (in terms of more jobs and less pollution) than bailing out fossil fuel industries. Of course we want to invest in repairing the crumbling infrastructure of our national parks and wildlife refuges so that future generations can safely enjoy them. Of course we want to put people to work restoring our national forests and watersheds so they’re more resilient in the face of climate change and wildfire. This crisis is the opportunity to go big on these long-standing needs, and the letter calls for spending that meets the occasion.
But I’m excited about some items proposed in the letter that are lower profile. My favorite is a billion dollars for wildlife crossings on our nation’s highways. We are long overdue to bring America’s infrastructure, including its roads, highways and bridges, up to snuff. Spending on that need now will provide millions of meaningful jobs while gaining all the efficiency benefits of modern infrastructure.
Adding wildlife crossing involves all those same jobs, plus the added returns on investment of fewer collisions, safer drivers and more wildlife for Americans to enjoy. Such work has bipartisan support, evidenced by a U.S. Senate committee last year overwhelmingly passing a highway bill that included $250 million for wildlife crossings. Washingtonians have enthusiastically embraced the great crossing structures that WSDOT has installed on I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass. Conservation Northwest has shown that even modest undercrossing investments in Highway 97 in Okanogan County have greatly reduced accidents and benefited people and wildlife.
The proposal described in the letter also includes $9 billion to help wildlife and habitat across the 50 states through the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. This bipartisan bill, which we staunchly support, would direct funding to state fish and wildlife agencies, which have experienced shrinking revenues as sales of hunting licenses have declined, to undertake all the needed projects set forth in their respective State Wildlife Action Plans, from recovering imperiled species to bolstering game populations.
This provision would generate approximately $23 million per year for Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Department, employing thousands in work that will help elk, pygmy rabbits, lynx and countless other species. This bill was needed before the present crisis, and the arguments for its passage are compounded by the economic crisis.
This is all akin to the thinking of President Franklin Roosevelt when, almost 90 years ago, he launched the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the New Deal. As Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, argues in this excellent column in The New York Times, that need is even greater today.
Outdoor recreation supports more than 7.6 million jobs and more than $887 billion in spending toward the American economy. I’m grateful to the Conservation Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and Outdoor Industry Association, who recently sent a joint letter to Congress asking them to include funding for public lands and recreation infrastructure in a future economic stimulus. You can ask your elected officials to support such funding using this action alert from our friends at The Mountaineers.
I’m also glad to see the Great American Outdoors Act moving forward in the Senate, which would fund backlogged maintenance projects at national parks as well as providing $285 million annually to the U.S. Forest Service and $95 million each to the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, supporting outdoor access, forest and habitat restoration, and much more.
This impressive outdoors package would also permanently fully-fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has improved access to outdoor recreation at municipal, state and national parks across the country, at $900 million annually.
Nobody has been harder hit in this crisis than young Americans, unemployed by the collapse of restaurants, retail and the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry. This is a healthy workforce that needs good, meaningful work that will improve the ecological prospects for their future. The work that needs to be done fixing our forests, habitats and public lands infrastructure is in geographies that most need the economic boost of having young workers in their towns, hotels and backcountry. The needs align; the benefits compound.
There will debates in Congress on these matters in the coming months. Conservation Northwest and our supporters will be encouraging the right outcome to those debates.