Democrats revive push for Civilian Climate Corps

By Emma Dumain | 09/18/2023 04:23 PM EDT

Congressional Democrats and environmental advocates are asking President Joe Biden to take executive action.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) during a press conference on their Green New Deal resolution. Francis Chung/POLITICO

More than 50 congressional Democrats want President Joe Biden to use his authority to create a massive green jobs training and placement program that fell to the wayside in the climate spending package Congress passed last year.

“With deadly heat, dangerous floods, rising seas, and devastating wildfires — including those that ravaged Maui last month — the climate crisis demands a whole-of-government response at an unprecedented scale,” the members wrote in a Monday letter to Biden.

“Following up on your earlier commitments, existing legislation, and the demands from young people across the nation,” they continued, “we urge you to issue an Executive Order formally establishing a Civilian Climate Corps initiative to work on key conservation and climate priorities.”


The leader was spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and co-signed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Civilian Climate Corps — to be modeled after the “Civilian Conservation Corps” of the New Deal area that put millions of people to work on public lands — has long been a galvanizing issue within the Democratic Party base.

After years of percolating as a policy idea without ever gaining much traction, Biden endorsed the concept on the 2020 campaign trail, while Green New Deal champions Ocasio-Cortez and Markey took up the cause and popularized it among progressives.

While Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), scorned the idea as a “made-up government work program … for young liberal activists,” Democrats doubled down, initially slating a $30 billion investment as part of the sweeping climate and social spending package called the “Build Back Better Act.”

Negotiators eventually dropped the money in the process of developing what became the Inflation Reduction Act.

But proponents haven’t given up. On Monday, coinciding with the letter to Biden and the 30th anniversary of AmeriCorps, Markey and Ocasio-Cortez reintroduced their “Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act.”

That bill, offered for the first time in 2021, would give participants a living wage to do work in restoration, resiliency, and wildfire risk mitigation and prevention. The legislation would authorize $132.5 billion over five years to create and sustain a Civilian Climate Corps.

“In the absence of federal action, some state leaders are already moving forward with similar efforts to respond to communities’ climate and resilience needs, with multiple states establishing successful climate corps programs akin to a Civilian Climate Corps,” the lawmakers wrote.

“While this is promising, we need a national and united effort. A central coordinating body, overseen by the White House, will be essential to create a successful and cohesive Civilian Climate Corps.”

Dozens of environmental and left-leaning groups — including the Sunrise Movement, WildEarth Guardians and Justice Democrats — also penned a letter to Biden asking for executive action on a Civilian Climate Corps.