The initiative resembles a proposal that was included in an early version of Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act. The Civilian Climate Corps was ultimately dropped from the final version of the legislation during private negotiations last summer between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
Since then, many Democrats and climate activists have called on Biden to use his executive authority to resurrect the Civilian Climate Corps. In a TikTok video Monday that racked up more than 16,000 views, the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group, declared that “Dark Brandon would pass a CCC” — a reference to a meme that Biden’s 2024 campaign has embraced.
Youth climate activists have criticized the Biden administration for approving new fossil fuel projects such as the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, with the hashtag #StopWillow going viral this spring. They say the president must do more to curb America’s dependence on fossil fuels, the leading cause of global warming, to lock in their support.
“I can’t speak on behalf of every single youth voter, but if President Biden continues to take bold climate action like this, I think it could go a long way,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of Sunrise Movement, said in an interview. “Young people need to see more policies like this from the administration in the lead-up to the election.”
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How will the Climate Corps work?
As part of a recruitment push, the White House on Wednesday will launch a new website where Americans can sign up to learn more about the workforce training program. All participants in the program will be paid, administration officials said, although they declined to disclose specific salaries.
The officials, who are closely monitoring the United Auto Workers’ ongoing strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, emphasized the program would help young people secure high-quality jobs after their training is complete.
The administration “will specifically be focused on making sure that folks that are coming through this program have a pathway into good-paying union jobs,” White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi said on a Tuesday call with reporters previewing the announcement. “We’re very keenly focused on that.”
Zaidi said the initiative could help train the next generation of electricians. The country faces a dire shortage of electricians, who are needed to install a host of climate-friendly technologies, including heat pumps, efficient air conditioners and electric car chargers.
Biden’s push to transition to electric vehicles has become a key sticking point for the striking autoworkers, who fear the shift to EVs will mean fewer jobs and lower pay. The new initiative demonstrates that “green jobs can be good jobs,” said Trevor Dolan, industry and workforce policy lead at Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group.
The Civilian Climate Corps was dropped from the climate bill. Now what?
Where did the idea for the Climate Corps come from?
Biden is not the first president to envision such a program. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put more than 3 million young men to work planting trees, constructing trails and making improvements to the nation’s infrastructure. However, the New Deal-era plan limited leadership roles to White men, whereas “this climate corps will uplift and empower a diverse and inclusive workforce,” Prakash said.
Biden’s move bypasses gridlock on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have introduced legislation to establish a Civilian Climate Corps that is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House. In recognition of this reality, Markey and Ocasio-Cortez sent a letter to the president on Monday urging him to take executive action.
“We must mobilize and train Americans to tackle the threats climate change poses to our communities by putting people to work on thousands of projects with one shared sense of purpose,” Markey said in a statement.
How much will the Climate Corps cost?
Democrats had proposed $30 billion in new funding for the Civilian Climate Corps that was included in the early version of the Inflation Reduction Act. In contrast, the new initiative will rely on existing funding sources, although administration officials declined to say how much money the program will receive or where these dollars will come from.
In the absence of federal action, eight states have established versions of climate corps programs, many of which are embedded in state governments and receive federal funding from AmeriCorps. The White House announced Wednesday that an additional five states — Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah — will move forward with climate corps programs that are funded through public-private partnerships, including AmeriCorps.
In California, which established the nation’s first climate corps program in 2020, participants have sought to divert food from landfills — a significant source of climate pollution — to residents who struggle with food insecurity. Meanwhile in Michigan, the program has partnered with Wayne State University to help Detroiters protect their homes from flooding, which has been exacerbated by rising global temperatures.
Civilian Climate Corps programs take off in states across the country