New Conservation Bill From Sen. Bennet Would Fund Wildfire Mitigation And River Clean-Ups, Create 2 Million Jobs

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Interstate 70, temporarily closed by the Grizzly Creek fire, and the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. The Grizzly Creek wildfire started a few miles up Glenwood Canyon to the east at No Name. Prevailing winds pushed the fire eastward, but smoke still hangs in the air in Glenwood.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet introduced a conservation bill Tuesday that he says will spur economic growth. 

The Outdoor Restoration Force Act would set up a $60 billion fund to support a range of projects from wildfire mitigation to river clean-ups. The money would be split, $20 billion for state and local governments and $40 billion for federal efforts at the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. 

In a statement, Bennet said the bill would boost local economies by making it possible for governments “to hire individuals for projects that meet local needs –– whether that’s improving forest health, cleaning up abandoned mines, or removing invasive species.”

The fund, Bennet said, could create and sustain 2 million jobs that in turn would support more growth in industries like agriculture and outdoor recreation.

And to ensure that all stakeholders have a say, the bill would create an 18-member advisory council to weigh in on funding priorities, coordinate with regional and local groups, and administer grants.

Given the state’s ongoing drought and historic wildfire season, Dan Gibbs with Colorado’s State Department of Natural Resources says there is no better time “to invest in Colorado’s forests, watersheds and landscapes to drive economic activity across the west.”

There are only a couple of weeks left in congressional legislative session this year, so the bill is not expected to go far. However, it is an indicator of what Bennet’s priorities may be in the upcoming Congress, one working under a Biden administration. 

By releasing the bill now, he can work on generating support for the measure in the early months of 2021, when Congress may take on a number of issues that have stalled or are expected to get a boost in a Biden administration, such as an infrastructure bill, an additional stimulus package or even a climate change bill. Bennet’s proposal could be tacked on to any of those.

Democratic Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse is also trying to build support in Congress for a parallel measure that would create a 21st Century Conservation Corps

The introduction of Bennet’s bill also comes just months after the passage of another major conservation bill, the Great American Outdoors Act, which also puts money toward restoration work in National Parks and other public lands. That effort was led by Colorado’s outgoing Senator, Republican Cory Gardner.