A concept born out of the Depression could see a rebirth, if Congress passes legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton.
Casey said he is introducing the Restore Environmental Vitality and Improve Volatile Economy by the Civilian Conservation Corps of 2021, or the REVIVE the CCC Act.
The measure also known as Senate Bill 2414 or S. 2414, already has received two readings and was referred July 21 to the Senate Committee on Finance.
As of Tuesday no co-sponsors were listed.
Casey wants to revitalize the 1930s-era CCC into a modern-day employment, job training and conservation program, aimed at tackling the climate crisis while creating what the senator described as well-paying, quality conservation jobs that protect and restore waterways, working lands and the health and resiliency of our rural and urban communities.
It could have purpose in Indiana County, where three CCC camps operated at various times from 1935 to 1942.
“The REVIVE the CCC Act is designed to respond to local and economic conditions of communities,” Casey told The Indiana Gazette. “Indiana and its neighboring counties have faced tremendous challenges in addressing the legacy of abandoned mine lands that have caused public health and safety hazards, polluted waterways and diminished economic opportunities.”
Casey said projects for a revived CCC could be hosted by local watershed groups addressing acid mine drainage — as, for instance, the Roaring Run Watershed Association has done for nearly four decades with a tributary of the Kiskiminetas River — or a state agency reclaiming abandoned mine lands, as a bureau of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has done in such areas as Center, Conemaugh, Grant, Rayne and Young townships in Indiana County.
Such projects came under the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Act, which is set to expire this year if not renewed by Congress.
“The REVIVE the CCC Act puts local communities in the driver’s seat in the design of projects and prioritizes the residents of those communities for employment for the work,” Casey said.
The original CCC was created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Locally it had Soil Conservation Service camps along Tanoma Road in Rayne Township (SCS-1), from 1935 to 1938; off Gobblers Run Road in Armstrong Township (SCS-6), also from 1935 to 1938; and near the modern-day site of Homer-Center School District’s campus in Center Township (SCS-12), from 1939 to 1942.
As Mary Ann Slater wrote for The Indiana Gazette on June 13, 2000, a stone historical marker honoring the CCC and its work in Rayne Township was located along Tanoma Road.
The late Ruth Kinter Crist (1919-2011) watched the CCC take shape right outside her front door, a program that employed young men in a variety of jobs designed to benefit rural America. A group from South Park, Allegheny County, was brought to the Tanoma Road camp.
“They were in tents on a 20-acre piece of ground owned by my uncle,” Crist said in 2000. “They lived on it rent free, but they did a lot of fixing up.”
Crist said her brother Richard was one of those involved in CCC, earning $30 a month and was given housing, food and Army clothes to wear on the job.
That $30 was a fair amount of money back in the mid-1930s, Crist said. From his wages, she said her brother helped her pay for classes that she took at what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
“At the end of two years, he was taken to another farm (with the CCC) in Jefferson County,” Crist said. “When that camp closed, he went to one camp below Saltsburg.”
Crist said her brother stayed with the CCC until the United States’ entry into World War II.
Casey said his legislation also includes measures to address environmental justice issues, such as air quality, transportation, access to green space and safe housing.
“As we recover from the pandemic, it is critical that we rebuild and invest in a more productive, equitable and just economy,” the senator said.
The Pennsylvania Democrat listed various organizations supporting his legislation, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Evangelical Environmental Network, Keystone Research Center, National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture, ReImagine Appalachia Coalition, and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.