Biden Invokes Executive Power, Goes Ahead With Climate Corps

Shot down by Congress, New Deal-style corps will serve as major green-jobs training program
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 20, 2023 10:30 AM CDT
Rejected By Congress, Biden Goes Ahead With Climate Corps
Climate activists rally at the White House on July 4 to demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency and move the country rapidly away from fossil fuels.   (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas, File)

After being thwarted by Congress, President Biden will use his executive authority to create a New Deal-style climate initiative that will serve as a major green-jobs training program. In an announcement Wednesday, the White House said the program will employ about 20,000 young adults who will build trails, plant trees, help install solar panels, and do other work to boost conservation and help prevent catastrophic wildfires. As the AP reports, such a program had been proposed in early versions of the sweeping climate law approved last year, but it was jettisoned amid strong opposition from Republicans and concerns about cost. Democrats and environmental advocacy groups never gave up on the plan and pushed Biden in recent weeks to issue an executive order authorizing what the White House now calls the American Climate Corps.

The program is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, created in the 1930s by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, as part of the New Deal. "This summer, our country saw heat waves, wildfires, and floods that destroyed communities, uprooted families, and claimed hundreds of lives," the Sunrise Movement and other organizations wrote on Monday in a letter to Biden's White House. "While previous executive orders and legislation under your administration demonstrate tremendous progress toward meeting our Paris climate goals and your campaign promises, this summer has made clear that we must be as ambitious as possible in tackling the great crisis of our time," the groups wrote.

More than 50 Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also encouraged Biden, saying in a letter that "the climate crisis demands a whole-of-government response at an unprecedented scale.'' The lawmakers cited deadly heat waves across the nation, as well as dangerous floods in New England and devastating wildfires on Maui as recent examples of climate-tied disasters. The White House didn't say how much the program will cost or how it will be paid for, but Democrats had proposed $10 billion. Republicans have largely dismissed it as a do-gooder proposal that will waste money and may even take jobs away from workers displaced by the pandemic. "We don't need another FDR program, and the idea that this is going to help land management is a false idea," Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, Natural Resources Committee chair, said in 2021.

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A key distinction between the original Civilian Conservation Corps and the new corps is that, unlike the 1930s, the US economy isn't in a depression. The new corps is also likely to be far more diverse than the largely white and male force created 90 years ago. White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi said the administration will work with at least six federal agencies and pair with at least 10 states. California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington have already begun similar programs, while five more are launching their own: Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Utah. The initiative will provide job training and service opportunities to work on projects that tackle climate change, including restoring coastal wetlands to protect communities from flooding; deploying clean-energy projects; managing forests to prevent wildfires; and implementing energy-efficient solutions to cut bills.

(More Climate Corps stories.)

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