The Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure package unveiled on Wednesday envisions a New Deal-style effort to combat climate change while also protecting and restoring America’s public lands.
The plan includes $10 billion to create a federal Civilian Climate Corps, akin to the Civilian Conservation Corps that was established in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The White House said the new program will “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers.”
The investment “will put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice through a new Civilian Climate Corps, all while placing good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans,” reads a lengthy fact sheet on the plan.
While $10 billion might seem like a sizable amount, it wouldn’t even be enough to cover fixing crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands, much less confront the myriad climate impacts across the federal estate. The National Park Service alone has a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
The American Jobs Plan includes massive federal investment to address planet-altering greenhouse gas emissions, but still falls far short of what scientists say is required to stave off potentially catastrophic warming, as HuffPost reported. The Biden administration has promised to use public lands as a tool in the climate fight. Among other things, the infrastructure plan earmarks $16 billion for plugging abandoned oil wells and mines, many of which exist on federal lands.
Congressional Democrats added to momentum for a Civilian Climate Corps on Tuesday, introducing legislation that would authorize the administration to establish the corps using existing national service programs. Along with public lands conservation and restoration, the bill prioritizes building climate resilience in disadvantaged communities and protecting biodiversity. Its introduction comes a few days before the 88th anniversary of the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which over more than a decade put more than 3 million young, unmarried men to work during the Great Depression planting trees and building bridges, dams, roads, fire lookouts and other infrastructure.
“We can put thousands of Americans to work right away rebuilding crumbling infrastructure on our public lands — some of which dates back all the way to the original Civilian Conservation Corps,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), one of the legislation’s sponsors, said in a statement. “This will keep growing our outdoor economy, which was fueling some of the fastest job growth in rural communities before the onset of the pandemic. The new CCC members can also make vital contributions to restore the health of American landscapes and improve our resilience to climate impacts like more extreme wildfires and floods.”
Progressive groups, including supporters of the Green New Deal platform, have embraced the idea of a Civilian Climate Corps in their push for a rapid national mobilization to stave off catastrophic climate change. Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, called it a “win-win” that “will allow us to act at-scale to confront the inter-related climate, biodiversity, and environmental justice crises which demand immediate attention.”
But some say $10 billion is nowhere near enough.
“Roosevelt’s original CCC employed around 300,000 young Americans per year at a time when the US population was ~40% what it is now,” Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, said in a statement, estimating that the amount earmarked in Biden’s package would only employ up to 20,000 Americans annually.
“If Biden wants to truly have a Rooseveltian Presidency, he will need to use his bully pulpit to build the political will for a more transformative vision, like FDR famously did,” Prakash added. “Biden must tell the truth about the scale of the climate crisis — as he’s done with the COVID crisis — and work to rally the political will to truly lead the world in stopping it.”
On a private call with activist groups this week, White House officials acknowledged that the Biden infrastructure plan would likely fall short of their expectations and to expect additional climate investments down the road, as HuffPost’s Alex Kaufman reported.
The package is just “the beginning of the race,” Ali Zaidi, one of Biden’s top climate aides, said on the call.