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Ocasio-Cortez, Markey Call on Biden to Establish Civilian Climate Corps

A Civilian Climate Corps would mobilize the U.S. workforce in the fight against the climate crisis.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at the end of the rally to end fossil fuels ahead of the 78th United Nations General Assembly and Climate Ambition Summit in New York on September 17, 2023.

Following massive protests in the streets of New York City for climate action this week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) are calling for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps to combat the climate crisis.

On Monday, the lawmakers reintroduced their bill to establish “a national climate service [and service grant] program” and sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to follow up on his previous call for a Civilian Climate Corps and use his authority to create one via executive order.

Inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civilian Climate Corps proposal would mobilize workers and federal resources to further conservation, clean energy and climate resilience projects. The establishment of such a program — a tenet of Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — addresses a longstanding call by climate activists who say that such a program would be necessary in advancing the shift away from fossil fuels.

Under the lawmakers’ proposal, a wide range of federal agencies would be mobilized against the climate crisis, while creating well-paid union positions within the corps. With the aim of avoiding the historic problems with racism and discrimination under the New Deal, the program would prioritize equity both in the communities that it serves and in the workers it employs.

The lawmakers say that Biden can use his existing authority to establish a Civilian Climate Corps, and that the passage of their bill would expand the scope of and resources afforded to the program.

“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. While this is promising, we need a national and united effort,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Through interagency collaboration, as well as coordination with state climate corps, other state entities, and local non-profit organizations, your Administration can realize the vision of a Civilian Climate Corps that establishes a unified front in the face of climate change — one that looks like America, serves America, and puts good-paying union jobs within reach for more young adults,” they continued.

The letter was signed by 13 senators, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). It was also signed by 38 members of the House. The bill has been cosponsored by seven members of the Senate and 20 members of the House.

The letter and bill introduction come in the midst of Climate Week NYC, a week-long conference involving lawmakers, academics and other advocates in New York City focused on the climate crisis. Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets over the weekend and on Monday calling on political leaders to deliver strong, decisive climate action.

Ocasio-Cortez joined the protesters on Sunday, criticizing the Biden administration’s backing of “climate bomb” drilling projects in Alaska and continued approval of oil and gas drilling, despite Biden’s pledges on climate action.

“We are all here for the same purpose: to protect the planet, the people, and make sure that we end fossil fuels across the globe,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a fiery speech. “I’m in rooms in Washington all the time where people say that they have a commitment to this issue, but we need urgency on this issue. Right now.”

“Climate must be a centerpiece of inside and outside organizing, an electoral force and a popular force that cannot be ignored,” she continued. “We must be too big and too radical to ignore.”

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