Sunrise Movement activists

Sunrise Movement activists protest in front of the White House on June 4, 2021.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Embracing FDR's Spirit and Progressive Demand, Biden Unveils American Climate Corps

"This historic victory," said the youth-led Sunrise Movement, "marks the beginning of a new era in the fight for a Green New Deal."

After years of pressure from environmentalists and progressive lawmakers, the Biden administration on Wednesday announced a new program aimed at training tens of thousands of young people in skills and jobs critical to combating climate breakdown, from land and water conservation to clean energy development.

Inspired by the New Deal's popular Civilian Conservation Corps—a popular decade-long program that employed millions of young men—the Biden administration's American Climate Corps (ACC) will establish a paid training program with the goal of providing "pathways to high-quality, good-paying clean energy and climate resilience jobs in the public and private sectors," according to a White House fact sheet.

The administration estimates that the program, established via executive action, will train more than 20,000 Americans, "putting them to work conserving and restoring our lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, deploying clean energy, implementing energy-efficient technologies, and advancing environmental justice."

Specific pay for the training program has yet to be disclosed.

The new initiative was unveiled days after dozens of U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups sent letters imploring President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to launch a Civilian Climate Corps to "prepare a whole generation of workers for good-paying, dignified, union jobs, and build the workforce we need for the robust green economy of tomorrow."

The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which spearheaded the advocacy groups' letter and has been organizing in support of a Civilian Climate Corps for years, celebrated the announcement of the ACC as "a response that begins to meet the moment and show young people how their government can work for them."

"Three years ago, I sat on then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders' Unity Climate Task Force and shared one of Sunrise Movement's top priorities for the future administration—a Civilian Climate Corps, a visionary jobs program to put thousands of young people to work in real career pathways fighting for their future," Varshini Prakash, the Sunrise Movement's executive director, said in a statement Wednesday.

"Now, after years of demonstrating and fighting for a Climate Corps, we turned a generational rallying cry into a real jobs program that will put a new generation to work stopping the climate crisis," Prakash added. "With the ACC and the historic climate investments won by our broader movement, the path towards a Green New Deal is beginning to become visible."

"We're often asked how President Biden can win the support and enthusiasm of young people. He's gotten our attention. Keep going."

Biden previously embraced the idea of a climate corps as he crafted what was known as his "Build Back Better" agenda, which included tens of billions of dollars in funding for such a program.

But due to opposition from oil and gas industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other right-wing Democrats—as well as the entire Republican congressional caucus—the administration agreed to dramatically pare back its agenda and approve the Inflation Reduction Act, which included a number of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry but not a climate corps.

NPRreported that the ACC is "likely to be smaller in scope than early proposals" and is "much smaller" than the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Biden administration did not say how much it plans to spend on the new program, which "will rely on existing funding sources," according toThe Washington Post.

Nevertheless, climate advocates welcomed the ACC as a critical first step while urging the Biden administration to do more to phase out fossil fuels.

"We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to address the climate crisis, and the Biden-Harris administration establishing an American Climate Corps—with specific opportunities for youth to work in climate resilience careers—is a historic effort to meet this moment," said Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous. "The Climate Corps will mobilize young people, workers, and federal resources in a way never seen before."

Keanu Arpels-Josiah, a member of Friday's for Future NYC, argued that "a climate corps is important but the executive actions we desperately need are those that will directly and swiftly phase out fossil fuel expansion and production."

"A climate corps that focuses solely on promoting renewables doesn't do the job," said Arpels-Josiah. "It won't undo the Biden administration's damage in approving climate bombs like Willow. It won't end new fossil fuel projects and phase out existing projects in the timeline we need for our generation to survive."

In a memo released Wednesday, the Sunrise Movement called the establishment of the ACC "a show of the strength of young people in the national political arena" and "a hopeful pivot by the Biden Administration towards a 21st century New Deal society."

"Moves like the creation of the American Climate Corps harken back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vision of government—meaning American government has a responsibility to invest directly in its people to provide relief, reform, recovery, and good jobs in collaboration with and support of organized labor," the group wrote. "This historic victory for Sunrise and the rest of the climate movement marks the beginning of a new era in the fight for a Green New Deal."

A number of federal agencies will be involved in supporting and implementing the new program, including the Department of Labor, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and AmeriCorps.

The Biden administration also announced Wednesday that "five new states—Arizona, Utah, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Maryland—are moving forward with state-based climate corps that are funded through public-private partnerships, including AmeriCorps, which will work with the American Climate Corps as implementing collaborators to ensure young people across the country are serving their communities."

Other states, including California, Maine, and Michigan, have already established climate corps programs.

"This past summer we saw record climate disasters, record labor strikes demanding good, meaningful work, and major climate protests led by young people," Prakash said Wednesday. "We're often asked how President Biden can win the support and enthusiasm of young people. He's gotten our attention. Keep going."

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