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Democrats planning Civilian Climate Corps of 'millions' paid at least $15 per hour

"Our climate crisis today requires a peaceful but wartime-scale mobilization in order to combat the climate crisis," Ocasio-Cortez says.

Updated: July 22, 2021 - 9:02am

A group of Democrats is pushing for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps that could employ "millions" of young people at a minimum of $15 per hour as a way to tackle climate change.

"I was proud to stand alongside Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez this year as we reintroduced the Green New Deal and also brought forward our new Civilian Conservation Corps because that legislation is a pathway to new jobs in our country, union jobs for young people," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said during a news conference focused on including the Civilian Climate Corps in the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill the Democrats are drafting.

Recruits for the envisioned corps "can, through apprentice programs, not just have a job but have a career in fighting this climate crisis and a pathway for education, a pathway for them to pay off their student loans or to go to college," Market added.

President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have endorsed creating a Civilian Climate Corps modeled on the the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era public work relief program.

"I am using my power as majority leader to ensure that the Civilian Climate Corps will be included in the reconciliation package, and I will fight to get the biggest boldest CCC possible," Schumer said. "Together, we're going to work to make this a strong, bold and so important reality."

The budget reconciliation framework currently totals an estimated $3.5 trillion. It includes a significant portion of Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, including universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, and support for childcare to taxpayers who meet certain income requirements.  

The Civilian Climate Corps "would put millions of people back to work in the short-term, but it would put millions of people on the pathway to lifelong climate smart careers," Markey said. He emphasized that "$15 an hour must be our floor, not our ceiling, and we have to ensure that we support the health and childcare and transformational job training and educational benefits that every single family in our country need."

Ocasio-Cortez asked the public to imagine that three months after the authorization of a Civilian Climate Corps "a quarter million young people were employed in a dignified job."

"What if this led to record improvements in and record performance in containing our wildfires across the country?" suggested the progressive New York representative. "What if this led to tens of thousands of new trails in our national forests and park service? And what if I told you that this isn't something that we have to imagine doing but that was actually the record of the original Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938?"

Ocasio-Cortez said the Civilian Conservation Corps isn't a "pipe dream" or "some big progressive vision" that is unrealistic.

"Today, we are talking about, in both the Green New Deal and a Civilian Climate Corps that acknowledges the fact that our climate crisis today requires a peaceful, but wartime-scale mobilization in order to combat the climate crisis," she said. "So it's not just about doing it, it's about doing it big."

The climate corps is about advancing the left's economic agenda in addition to environmental change, Ocasio-Cortez revealed. "The way that we're going to combat the climate crisis is not just with the science, but it is also with our economic structure," she said. "We can combat this with a fair economy and in establishing a Climate Corps, that not just guarantees a $15 minimum wage, but also extends the same educational benefits that we should be giving to our teachers and our other public service workers. It should put people on a track, and with Senator Markey and I's bill, 1.5 million people on a track to good union jobs."