Monday, August 10, 2009

Bingaman Bill Helps Restore Public Lands While Employing and Training Young Americans

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today introduced legislation that would expand a program that provides young people with job opportunities, while helping repair and restore the country's public lands. The bill also includes a provision authored by U.S. Senator Tom Udall to establish the Indian Youth Service Corps.

Bingaman's Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009 expands on the existing Public Lands Corps by expanding the scope of corps projects to reflect new challenges such as climate change. Additionally, the bill would add incentives to attract new participants, especially from underrepresented populations, and paving the way for increased funding. Senator Tom Udall is a cosponsor of the bill.

"This bill expands on an already successful program that provides young American with educational and professional development opportunities, while helping restore our country's public lands," Bingaman said.

"This legislation will help ensure that future generations of young people can give back to their communities and gain important job and life skills by protecting our nation's natural heritage," said Udall. "This bill would also help address the needs of Native communities by allowing Tribes to develop their own corps projects."

Specifically the bill would do the following:

* Amends the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 to expand the authority of the Interior and Agriculture Departments (including such agencies as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service).
* Establishes an Indian Youth Service Corps so that Indian Tribes can start corps programs on Tribal lands to carry out priority projects determined by their communities.
* Authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to participate in the program, which would allow Corps members to work on restoring coastal and marine ecosystems along our oceans and the Great Lakes.
* Authorizes the establishment of residential conservation centers, and encourages those centers to be built using solar and other green technology with the involvement of Corps participants.
* Expands the scope of eligible projects to include activities such as assisting -- historical and cultural research, scientists in field research, visitor services and interpretation.
* Authorizes the Secretary, in project areas where Corps members can reasonably be expected to live at home, to provide transportation to and from project sites.
* Allows agencies to provide noncompetitive hiring status for Corps participants for two years after completing service. Current law allows such status for only 120 days.
* Eliminates the $12 million authorization ceiling for the program, which would make the program eligible for increased funding.
* Age range for the program is 16-25, and participants may serve either in crews or as individuals.

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