The Environmental Protection Agency announced Aug. 30 a small-scale, $6 million civilian conservation corps-type project that seeks to both restore the Great Lakes and provide jobs for at least 20 out-of-work people.

The program will specifically target Michigan’s youth – who suffer nearly 50 percent unemployment rates in Detroit.

The program is part of the ongoing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-year federal project to revitalize the health of the world’s largest freshwater system.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work,” said EPA Great Lakes national program manager and regional administrator Susan Hedman in a news release.  “In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps.”

According to their website, the EPA will grant up to $1 million for each project, and those projects must fit with the federal government’s vision for restoring the Great Lakes, including:

  • Projects must provide immediate, direct ecological benefits
  • Projects must be located in areas identified as federal priorities such as national lakeshores or (polluted) areas of concern
  • Projects must include a detailed budget, and produce measurable results

The grants for this year will be announced by the end of September.

The five-year plan, developed in 2010, calls for cleaning up toxic waste sites on the lakes, battling invasive species, blocking polluted runoff and restoring wetlands.

Some may say that this initiative is too small to hold up as an example of progress on jobs. But it is a pilot project for what is really needed on a much larger scale. Who knew the EPA had a fund that could be targeted to help the unemployed directly? Perhaps there is money available in most states to fund such “pilots.” Widely publicizing and championing such pilots can play a key role in demystifying the perception that public works and goods cause the breakdown of enterprise, or the onset of totalitarianism.

The reverse is true: they sustain healthier and faster economic growth – and are responsive to local concerns.

Further, acting as the employer of last resort may be both the only protection workers have from a crisis that is not fixing itself, and – ironically – the only cure for the fall in aggregate demand that is stalling private sector growth.


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.