NYC Climate March

Climate activists call on President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and establish a Civilian Climate Corps in New York City on September 17, 2023.

(Photo: Sunrise Movement/X)

Lawmakers and Groups Demand Biden Executive Order Creating Civilian Climate Corps

Such a program, the lawmakers wrote, would "fight climate change, build community resilience, support environmental justice, and develop career pathways to good-paying union jobs focused on... a clean economy."

Dozens of Democratic U.S. lawmakers joined more than 50 civil society groups who on Monday implored President Joe Biden to sign an executive order establishing a Civilian Climate Corps that would "put young Americans to work serving their communities" and tackling the planetary emergency.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety—and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) led at least 50 House and Senate Democrats plus independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a letter urging Biden to act in the face of the worsening climate crisis. They noted that the president's January 2021 executive order on tackling the emergency mandated a strategy for creating a Civilian Climate Corps within 90 days.

"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 lawmakers wrote. "Following up on your earlier commitments, existing legislation, and the demands from young people across the nation, we urge you to issue an executive order formally establishing a Civilian Climate Corps initiative to work on key conservation and climate priorities."

"By leveraging the historic climate funding secured during your administration, using existing authorities, and coordinating across AmeriCorps and other relevant federal agencies, your administration can create a federal Civilian Climate Corps that unites its members in an effort to fight climate change, build community resilience, support environmental justice, and develop career pathways to good-paying union jobs focused on climate resilience and a clean economy," the letter adds.

Inspired by the best aspects of the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps—which despite the nostalgia it often evokes among progressives, was for men only, racially segregated, and paid just $1 a day—the Civilian Climate Corps has long enjoyed the support of many congressional Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who wanted it included in previous legislation.

Climate, environmental, and social justice groups also support the proposal. On Monday, more than 50 of them sent their own letter to the White House urging Biden to "be as ambitious as possible in tackling the great crisis of our time," in part by establishing a Civilian Climate Corps "through existing authorities, with existing climate funding, that can coordinate across relevant federal agencies."

Hinting at the Civilian Conservation Corps' flagrant flaws, the letter insists that the new program "must prioritize equity in the communities it serves" and the members it trains, "must provide a pathway to long-term employment through good-paying union jobs," and "must center the needs and leadership of local communities in order to achieve its national mission."

"Young voters widely support this vision. Half of all voters under 45 say they would consider joining the Climate Corps if a job was available to them," the groups wrote. "In 2020, young people helped ensure your election to office. After high-profile approvals of fossil fuel projects, it's time to deliver for this critical constituency and show that you and your administration are serious about an all-out mobilization to confront the climate crisis."

Monday's letters come at the start of the annual Climate Week in New York City—which will host the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people on Sunday took to the streets of Manhattan, demanding an end to the fossil fuel era and urging Biden to declare a climate emergency.

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