20 September 2023

Biden launches major New Deal-style climate programme

20 September 2023

US President Joe Biden will use his executive authority to create a New Deal-style American Climate Corps that will serve as a major green jobs training programme.

In an announcement on Wednesday, the White House said the programme will employ more than 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.

The climate corps had been proposed in early versions of the sweeping climate law approved last year but was jettisoned amid strong opposition from Republicans and concerns about cost.

Democrats and environmental advocacy groups never gave up on the plan and pushed Mr Biden in recent weeks to issue an executive order authorising what the White House now calls the American Climate Corps.

“After years of demonstrating and fighting for a climate corps, we turned a generational rallying cry into a real jobs programme that will put a new generation to work stopping the climate crisis,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, an environmental group that has led the push for a climate corps.

With the new corps “and the historic climate investments won by our broader movement, the path towards a Green New Deal is beginning to become visible,” Ms Prakash said, referring to a comprehensive jobs-and-climate plan supported by many activists and some Democrats but ridiculed by Republicans as a socialist nightmare that would raise taxes and hamper the economy.

Ms Prakash, a frequent Biden critic, took part in a White House call on Tuesday promoting the new job corps, which comes as Mr Biden tries to strengthen his appeal to young voters in the 2024 presidential campaign.

The Sunrise Movement and other climate activists, including many young adults, were outraged this spring after Mr Biden approved the huge Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska.

Opponents say the project and others approved by Mr Biden put his climate legacy at risk and are a breach of his 2020 campaign promise to stop new oil drilling on federal lands.

Those concerns were put aside on Wednesday as environmental activists hailed the new jobs programme, which is modelled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, created in the 1930s by President Franklin D Roosevelt, a Democrat, as part of the New Deal.

Young people are fighting for climate justice every day in their community, and now they have even more opportunity to continue this fight in their careers

“Young people nationwide are excited to see the launch of the American Climate Corps, a programme which will put more than 20,000 young people on career pathways in the growing fields of clean energy, conservation and climate resilience,” said Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, president of NextGen America, an organisation that promotes education, registration and mobilisation for voters aged 18 to 35.

“Young people are fighting for climate justice every day in their community, and now they have even more opportunity to continue this fight in their careers,” Ms Ramirez said.

More than 50 Democratic politicians, including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had also encouraged Mr Biden to create a climate corps, saying in a letter on Monday that “the climate crisis demands a whole-of-government response at an unprecedented scale”.

The lawmakers cited deadly heatwaves across the nation, as well as dangerous floods in New England and devastating wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui, among recent examples of climate-related disasters.

A federal climate corps will “prepare a whole generation of workers for good-paying union jobs in the clean economy” while helping to “fight climate change, build community resilience and support environmental justice,” the politicians wrote.

The White House declined to say how much the programme will cost or how it will be paid for, but Democrats proposed 10 billion dollar (£8.06 billion) for the climate corps in the Climate Bill before the provision was removed.

Republicans have largely dismissed the climate corps as a do-gooder proposal that would waste money and could even take jobs away from other workers displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We don’t need another FDR programme, and the idea that this is going to help land management is a false idea as well,” Arkansas Rep Bruce Westerman, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in 2021.

Rep Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat who has co-sponsored a climate corps bill, said it is important to train the next generation of federal land managers, park rangers and other stewards of our natural resources.

Mr Neguse and other Democrats have said the program should pay “a living wage” while offering health care coverage and support for child care, housing, transportation and education.

White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi said the administration will work with at least six federal agencies to create the climate corps and will pair with at least 10 states.

California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Washington have already begun similar programmes, while five more are launching their own climate corps, the adviser said: Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah.

The initiative will provide job training and service opportunities to work on a wide range of projects that tackle climate change.

These include restoring coastal wetlands to protect communities from storm surges and flooding; deploying clean energy projects such as wind and solar power; managing forests to improve health and prevent catastrophic wildfires; and implementing energy efficient solutions to cut energy bills for consumers, the White House said.

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