AOC, Markey Introduce Civilian Climate Corps Bill To Revive New Deal Era Program

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Just in time for earth day, Senator Ed Markey (MA) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) introduced their plan for a Civilian Climate Corps, aiming to employ 1.5 million Americans through various conservation projects. Based on the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s bill focuses on using the corps to implement conservation projects, transfer the country to a sustainable economy, and help communities respond to the climate crisis. With a focus on diversity and equity, the CCC will also include provisions to ensure that at least half of its conservation projects will impact historically disenfranchised communities.

What’s In The CCC Bill?

The 73-page bill, found on Senator Markey’s website, details all of the provisions of the Corps. The bill aims to employ 1.5 million Americans over the course of 5 years, which is around half of the 3 million employed under the Civilian Conservation Corps established as a part of FDR’s New Deal. Like the original Conservation Corps, Markey’s plan will in part target the national park system, which makes up ~3.5% of the country’s total land area.  

Unlike the original Conservation Corps, however, Markey’s plan is focused on equity. The plan will aim to place at least half of its efforts toward helping historically disenfranchised communities, as well as recruiting at least half of all Corps members from these communities.  The new CCC will also notably work with localities much more than the original. In a press conference, Senator Markey stated that the Corps would work with local communities in addressing climate issues facing said areas. This explicitly includes working with tribal leaders in the reservation system as well.

The Bill also puts emphasis on utilizing and bolstering unions. Markey’s bill makes clear that labor unions will be an essential part of the CCC, which would allow members to collectively bargain. Part of a renewed push from congressional Democrats in promoting unions, the CCC comes on the heels of a nationally publicized campaign to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. 

I asked Representative Ocasio-Cortez last month about how such unionization efforts fit into the labor movement at-large.

Climate Corps members will be paid $15 per hour in compensation in addition to benefits like health care coverage, compensation for transportation, and up to $50,000 educational grants per year of service.  

Will The CCC Bill Pass?

Notably, President Biden may be a supporter of the corps as well. In a recently passed executive order focusing on the climate crisis, the Biden Administration called for the creation of a similar Climate Corps with goals of “restoring public lands and waters … increasing reforestation,” along with other goals related to mitigating climate change.  

Other cosponsors of the Senate version of Markey’s bill include Senator Sanders, Padilla, Merkley, and Gillibrand. With no way to pass the bill through a standard Senate vote due to the filibuster, climate groups like the Sunrise Movement are advocating for use of budget Reconciliation to pass the CCC bill into law. Even then, with a split 51–50 senate (including Vice President Harris), supporters of the bill will need every Democrat vote, barring unlikely Republican support. This is easier said than done, and if recent Senate votes on issues like the federal minimum wage are any indicator, passing the Corps through even reconciliation means may be impossible. However, if the bill manages to pass the Senate as a part of a larger package, it would have a much easier path in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

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