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84 Democrats Sign Letter Demanding Civilian Climate Corps in Reconciliation Bill

Advocates have long sought the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to tackle the climate crisis and create jobs.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at a press conference urging the inclusion of the Civilian Climate Corps., a climate jobs program, in the budget reconciliation bill, outside of the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

As Democratic leaders hash out the details of the upcoming $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal, dozens of Democratic lawmakers are uniting behind a proposal to create a Civilian Climate Corps and rallying for its inclusion in the bill.

Eighty-four Democrats signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) urging them to incorporate their proposal for the Corps on Tuesday.

“We have a historic opportunity to make bold investments in our public lands, clean energy, and climate resiliency, all while creating good-paying jobs, building a diverse workforce, and strengthening career pathways,” write the Democrats. “It is in the spirit of this conviction and dedication that we write to express our strong support for funding a Civilian Climate Corps in the upcoming reconciliation package.”

Letter signatories include progressive climate advocates like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), who introduced a proposal to create a Civilian Climate Corps earlier this year. It’s an idea that has roots in the justice-focused, jobs-creating and climate-crisis tackling Green New Deal, and has been long sought after by climate advocates.

Over the past months, it has emerged as a top priority for progressives. Members from all across the Democratic caucus signed on to the letter, however, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who faced activist pressure to support the idea.

The Civilian Climate Corps is a proposal to create a jobs program to employ many Americans, potentially millions, to combat the climate crisis with conservation, carbon reduction and adaptation projects across the country. The idea was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and has been championed and pushed for by progressive lawmakers and climate activists like the Sunrise Movement alike.

“It’s time for us to pass a bold and equitable Civilian Climate Corps to reinvent, reimagine, and rebuild America,” Markey said in a statement. “With a robust investment in wages, worker benefits, and climate-smart projects, we can center jobs and justice within the vision of a safer, healthier future and put a diverse group of well-paid workers on the pathway to life-long careers in the clean energy economy.”

In their letter, the Democrats demand the formation of a Corps that prioritizes “natural climate solutions” like increasing natural carbon sequestration and restoration of the coasts. They call for the proposal to center justice by directing half of the investment and recruitment for the group to be for and from frontline communities typically made up of low-income neighborhoods of color that suffer the worst consequences of climate change.

The Corps must also work to reduce climate emissions with programs to install renewable energy infrastructure, train others in clean energy-related work and work towards improving energy efficiency, the Democrats’ proposal outlines. It would share funding and work in collaboration with other government agencies and groups like AmeriCorps, in line with President Joe Biden’s “whole-of-government” approach to the climate crisis.

Following up on previous promises, Schumer said Tuesday that the reconciliation bill will include a Civilian Climate Corps, and that he will “fight to get the biggest, boldest CCC possible.” President Joe Biden signed an executive order supporting the idea in January, but didn’t include funding for the group in the order.

Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that just fighting for the Corps isn’t enough. “This is a win but we can’t stop now,” she said, saying that the group must be justice-centered and fully funded.

A Civilian Climate Corps is popular among the public, as the letter writers point out. Recent polling from Data for Progress finds wide bipartisan support for the idea among likely voters. Seventy-seven percent of those polled favored the idea, including 65 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats.

“After historic levels of job loss due to COVID-19, this bold investment in jobs is a bipartisan priority,” wrote the Democrats. “From rural communities to urban centers, the Civilian Climate Corps will provide new career opportunities across the country.”