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After being targeted by progressive climate campaigners, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear on Wednesday that he will work to include the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps in evolving federal infrastructure legislation.
“We must go big and bold with a Civilian Climate Corps.”
—Sen. Ed Markey
Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a lengthy statement outlining his support for the inclusion of a Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), which was inspired by a New Deal-era program and formally unveiled as legislation earlier this year by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the same day they reintroduced the Green New Deal Resolution.
The Sunrise Movement, whose New York City chapter took to the streets to push Schumer on the CCC proposal, celebrated his statement as a victory for local organizers and the youth-led movement more broadly.
“In the upcoming American Jobs and Families Plans legislation, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to confront the climate crisis and create millions of middle-class, family-sustaining union jobs,” Schumer said. “Creating a new Civilian Climate Corps is a key step towards both goals.”
The Senate majority leader vowed to “work tirelessly to achieve a big and bold Civilian Climate Corps that places justice at the center and urgently addresses the interlocking climate and economic crises.”
“In the coming weeks, I look forward to working in New York with Sunrise Movement, community organizations, and unions on a shared vision for the CCC,” he added, thanking “the dedicated young organizers and activists who have brought the idea of a new Civilian Climate Corps this far.”
In a tweet welcoming his promise that “together, we will work to make it a reality,” Sunrise NYC declared: “A monumental moment for the climate movement and beyond!”
Thanking Schumer “for standing with us” and supporting a CCC, the chapter said that “we look forward to collaborating with you to win big and tackle economic and climate injustice through transformative change.”
“This is a big deal,” tweeted Sunrise co-founder and political director Evan Weber, recognizing that it is not every day the Senate majority leader “backs your movement’s major demand in the midst of a high stakes, narrow-path-to-victory legislative fight.”
Weber credited the NYC Sunrise members for “leading the push.”
“Schumer’s statement shows us that he is listening to our generation and taking our demands seriously,” said Veekas Ashoka, an activist with Sunrise Movement NYC, in a statement. “The global pandemic, fatal heatwaves, and destructive storms have left New Yorkers with a 10% unemployment rate and with our communities struggling to survive. Young people are ready to get to work repairing our country, and we need good-paying, union jobs to do so.”
“Schumer’s commitment means our organizing is working. Now, we work to ensure he follows through on his promises,” Ashoka added. “We will continue building the political mandate for Schumer to deliver on the full scope of climate action we need by any means necessary, with or without the GOP.”
Markey also took to Twitter Wednesday to welcome Schumer’s statement.
“Agreed,” he said. “We must go big and bold with a Civilian Climate Corps. If we do, we can employ one million+ with good-paying jobs to strengthen our union workforce, fight climate change, deliver justice to frontline communities, and transition America to a clean economy.”
Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal envisions employing 1.5 million people to complete federally funded projects that help communities respond to the climate emergency. As Markey detailed for the Boston Globe in April:
For example, corps members may work to help weatherize and electrify housing in low-income communities, or be part of a team preparing for and installing a community solar facility, receiving relevant training and credentials along the way. Natural climate resiliency improvements, like shoreline and wetlands restoration that protect against rising seas, or environmental remediation that protects from historic pollution would also be part of corps work, with crucial benefits to communities in Massachusetts and beyond. From Groundworks Lawrence to AmeriCorps Cape Cod to the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation and programs all across the country, corps members would be part of the country’s transition to a clean economy.
Schumer’s Wednesday statement increased pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Joe Biden to ensure a CCC measure is included in any approved infrastructure package.
In a tweet urging them to join Schumer and “commit to a bold, visionary CCC,” Sunrise said that “this is our chance to build resilience in our communities [with] good-paying jobs. In the midst of worldwide economic and climate devastation, we need to invest in people and create jobs for our communities.”
During a Wednesday speech near Chicago, Biden explained Democrats’ current two-track approach to infrastructure—a bipartisan agreement he reached with centrist lawmakers last month as well as using the budget reconciliation process to avoid a GOP filibuster and advance “human infrastructure” policies.
“It’s a combination of parts of my American Jobs Plan that were essential and not included in the bipartisan infrastructure plan, as well as my American Families Plan,” said Biden, who later in his speech expressed support for establishing a new CCC.
“I also want to enlist a new generation of climate, conservation, and… resilience workers, like FDR did… preserving our landscape with a Civilian Conservation Corps,” the president said. “It’s a similar thing.”
“We can put Americans to work strengthening public lands and waters, and making our communities—rural and urban—more resilient against extreme weather,” he said. “And we can take on the long-overdue work of advancing environmental justice by addressing pollution.”
As Common Dreams reported last week, although a CCC and other progressive priorities are included in a recent memo outlining the Biden administration climate and infrastructure goals, some of the document’s language has generated concerns.
Climate journalist Kate Aronoff noted when the memo was made public that “the wording for the $10 billion CCC strongly suggests that it’s gonna be structured as some kind of Americorps expansion rather than, well, a CCC.”
Wednesday afternoon, Politico reported on a possible timeline for infrastructure legislation, citing a White House official who noted in an email that “as Leader Schumer has said, he wants to move on both the bipartisan plan and the budget resolution during the upcoming July/August Senate session.”
“Our understanding is that the process could begin as early as the week of 7/19, given that committees are still finalizing legislative text for both the budget resolution and the bipartisan bill,” the White House official said. “We of course support going forward as fast as possible, but it would be a mistake to think of July 19 as anything more than the opening of a window.”
This post has been updated with comment from Veekas Ashoka of Sunrise Movement NYC.