Biden launches American Climate Corps

By Robin Bravender | 09/20/2023 08:11 AM EDT

A government program aimed at putting young people to work on climate has been on President Joe Biden’s wish list for years. 

President Joe Biden arrives at the White House.

President Joe Biden arrives at the White House on Sept. 17. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

President Joe Biden is launching a new federal program that aims to put more than 20,000 young people to work in jobs that promote renewable energy and combat climate change.

Biden will use executive power to launch the American Climate Corps, a “workforce training and service initiative that will ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy,” White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi told reporters Tuesday.

The idea behind a climate corps — modeled after the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young people to work improving public lands — has been popular among Democrats for some time.


The announcement comes as the Biden team is launching an administrationwide campaign to tout its climate achievements and participating in Climate Week NYC, an annual event held in New York City that coincides with the U.N. General Assembly session.

The move also comes as the 2024 presidential campaign is heating up. A federal jobs program aimed at young workers could help the president appeal to younger voters who could be critical in determining whether he stays in the White House.

A climate corps has been on Biden’s wish list for years.

Biden called for a strategy to create a Civilian Climate Corps in an executive order he signed days after taking office. Democrats sought funding for the program in their climate and social spending legislation dubbed the “Build Back Better Act,” but the plan was stripped from the climate law that emerged.

“Years after idea and imagination, after organizing and marching, yet another element of the president’s historic climate agenda is coming to life,” Zaidi said.

The White House didn’t provide specifics about how the program will be structured or funded.

Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, called the corps a top priority for young climate activists.

“We need millions of people — especially young people — employed to do the essential work of averting climate catastrophe and building a fair and equitable new economy,” Prakash said Tuesday in a call organized by the White House.

Just as then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps “put millions to work, repairing bridges, planting trees and building national parks, this climate corps will conserve our land and water, bolster community resilience, advance environmental justice and tackle the climate crisis,” Prakash said.

“Unlike FDR’s CCC … this climate corps will uplift and empower a diverse and inclusive workforce,” said Prakash, who served on the climate task force set up by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after Biden clinched the 2020 presidential nomination.

The idea also has support among Capitol Hill Democrats.

Congressional Democrats — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — sent Biden a letter this week urging him to create a climate jobs program.

Republicans have derided the idea and are likely to spurn this latest Biden initiative.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called the idea a “made-up government work program … for young liberal activists.” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) labeled it “a cabal of federally funded climate police.”

Markey and Ocasio-Cortez have introduced legislation that would authorize $132.5 billion over five years to create and sustain a Civilian Climate Corps. Funding a sweeping new program is more complicated in the absence of legislation.

As part of the executive branch effort, the White House announced that six federal agencies will sign a memorandum of understanding to formalize the effort. Those agencies are the Labor, Interior, Agriculture and Energy departments, NOAA and AmeriCorps.

Those agencies have existing programs and resources, Zaidi said, which can be paired with resources from the private sector, state and local governments, and philanthropists.

More details about the program’s structure will be rolled out in the coming weeks, Zaidi said.

The White House is launching a new website where anyone interested in the program can sign up to learn more.

Reporter Emma Dumain contributed.

Correction: A previous version of this story included an inaccurate quote stating that the Civilian Conservation Corps only employed white men. Over the course of the Civilian Conservation Corps, more than 200,000 Black Americans participated, according to the National Park Service.