Biden revives the Climate Corps, a New Deal idea to prepare young workers for green energy and resilience jobs

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Solar panels atop the Stella affordable housing building in Globeville on March 16, 2022.

Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse applauded the Biden Administration’s launch of a New Deal-style American Climate Corps on Wednesday.

Since entering Congress, Neguse has been advocating for a nationwide service program that trains the next generation of public lands managers, green energy and climate resilience workers.

“It’s exciting,” Neguse said, in particular for the West, “where there's a great need and a dearth of individuals to be able to do this work. I think it positions a new generation of young folks to be working in the clean energy sector for decades to come.”

President Joe Biden used his executive authority to create the jobs training program.

In an announcement Wednesday, the White House said the program will employ more than 20,000 young adults to build trails, plant trees, help install solar panels and do other work to boost conservation and help prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Neguse said he’d still like the corps codified into law, which he sees as the next step, so that “in the future, the program can't be eliminated, or executive order can't be … rescinded.”  

White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi said the administration will work with at least six federal agencies to create the Climate Corps. The program will also pair with at least 10 states, including Colorado.

As Zaidi noted, Colorado is one of five states that have already launched their own climate corps. The others are California, Maine, Michigan and Washington. And five other states — Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah — are in the process of starting similar programs. 

“We believe in harnessing the power of AmeriCorps to preserve our breathtaking landscapes. We recognize the urgent need to address climate change and are proud to have been at the forefront of this effort,” said Lt. Governor Diane Primavera in a statement. 

According to the state, the Colorado Climate Corps had about 630 members in its first class in 2022. They worked on wildfire mitigation, trail conservation and energy-efficient home upgrades.

Neguse added it also means Colorado is well positioned to take advantage of the federal Climate Corps program, “because the administration, as it looks to scale up this program, knows that with Colorado they have a partner that is ready to get to work on day one.”

Several Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates have been pushing for such a move. 

Earlier this week, a bicameral group of Democratic lawmakers, including Neguse, sent a letter to Biden advocating for a new civilian conservation corps. 

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 lawmakers wrote.

Varshini Prakas, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which has led the push said, “after years of demonstrating and fighting for a Climate Corps, we turned a generational rallying cry into a real jobs program that will put a new generation to work stopping the climate crisis.” 

The program is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, created in the 1930s by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal to deal with the Great Depression. However, unlike then, the U.S. economy has low levels of unemployment, which could potentially impact the program’s ability to recruit.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story described Colorado's Climate Corps as being run by the Colorado Youth Corps Association. The CYCA runs a program within the Climate Corps, but not the whole Corps. The story has been updated.