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Biden Administration Announces Creation of Climate Corps Jobs Program

The program aims to employ 20,000 workers within its first year, the White House said.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on September 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, the White House announced the formation of a new jobs program designed to address the climate crisis and other environmental concerns in the United States.

The American Climate Corps is modeled after federal public works programs that were created during the Great Depression. Within its first year, the program will employ around 20,000 individuals to “ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy,” the White House said in its announcement.

“The American Climate Corps will focus on equity and environmental justice — prioritizing communities traditionally left behind,” the White House added.

“We’re opening up pathways to good-paying careers, lifetimes of being involved in the work of making our communities more fair, more sustainable, more resilient,” said Ali Zaidi, a climate policy adviser to President Joe Biden.

The White House is promising that most positions within the American Climate Corps will not require previous working experience. A portal has been launched on the White House website, allowing people interested in the program to submit their names and contact information in order to receive updates about potential jobs within the program that they can apply for.

An ambitious civilian corps program dedicated to climate- and environment-related works has been a longtime goal of Democrats focused on the climate crisis, and Biden had pushed for $30 billion to fund such a program in his Build Back Better proposal. But lawmakers dropped the measure during negotiations after right-wing Democrats demanded that spending for programs to address the climate crisis be scaled back, and the corps wasn’t included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed last year.

This week’s announcement of the American Climate Corps, which will be much smaller than what was outlined in Biden’s original proposal, comes just days after 13 Democratic lawmakers in Congress — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Oregon) — wrote Biden a letter demanding that the program be established as soon as possible.

Before that letter was sent, Ocasio-Cortez stressed in a speech to activists over the weekend that the climate crisis urgently requires continued action from the administration.

“Climate must be a centerpiece of inside and outside organizing, an electoral force and a popular force that cannot be ignored. We must be too big and too radical to ignore,” she said in New York City on Sunday.

The executive branch action has been welcomed by environmental groups, though activists have pointed out that much more needs to be done.

“This is a big step in the right direction, and continuing to have action like this in the lead-up to the election will be essential for Joe Biden building support with the youth base. There remain many, many more things the government can and should do,” Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash told The New Republic about the Biden administration’s move this week.

Prakash emphasized that the thousands of positions promised for the program weren’t enough. “We need an active government that is involved in addressing the climate crisis and employing millions of people to do that critical work,” she said.

The creation of the corps is “an important step,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, but is well short of the “$132 billion Civilian Climate Corps that would train and recruit 1.5 million Americans in public service jobs” that activists called for.

Beyond the establishment of the American Climate Corps, the Biden administration must do more to address the climate crisis, Rojas added.

“President Biden must make this work matter by divesting our reliance on fossil fuels, ending federal subsidies to Big Oil and Gas, reversing the approval of the Willow oil project, and investing in the communities that have been most harmed by environmental racism,” Rojas said. “Otherwise, we are just continuing to kick the can down the road.”

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