The final annual budget bill should include a new Civilian Climate Corps to create one million-plus union jobs that bolster energy and climate projects across the country, according to more than 80 lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

The Malden Democrat, who reintroduced the Green New Deal alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York earlier this year, led a letter among a handful of House and Senate Democrats urging Congress to support the civilian group, which has its roots in the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

While President Joe Biden included the corps in his initial $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, Congress is now taking up an infrastructure package at half the price tag. Biden’s deal with Republicans has forced progressives to press colleagues to work the corps into the annual budget reconciliation bill — which won’t require support from GOP lawmakers who’ve balked at the Biden administration’s aggressive spending.

“It’s time for us to pass a bold and equitable Civilian Climate Corps to reinvent, reimagine and rebuild America,” Markey said Tuesday. “With a robust investment in wages, worker benefits and climate-smart projects, we can center jobs and justice within the vision of a safer, healthier future and put a diverse group of well-paid workers on the pathway to life-long careers in the clean energy economy.”

The Democrats call for investments in training and $15 per hour union gigs for people working with community groups on federally-funded projects such as climate disaster recovery, research on reducing emissions, and transitioning to renewable energy.

Half of the members will come from “environmental justice” communities — largely communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by adverse impacts of climate change, and by industry in or near neighborhoods where residents have too often not had a seat at the table before local development projects get underway.

Biden’s initial proposal called for $10 billion to fund the corps, including $200 million slated the Department of Interior in 2022, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

As the lawmakers hash out final details of the corps and the budget package, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a news conference Tuesday said he will “fight to create the biggest, boldest [Civilian Climate Corps] possible,” ensuring that underserved and communities of color play a major role after years of “being ignored or worse.”

Schumer highlighted fires, floods and other climate disasters in Oregon, Washington, Germany, Austria and Belgium. The climate corps, he argued, would serve as a long-term effort to blunt global warming because “as climate change continues to worsen, extreme weather … is only more common.”

In addition to Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, Reps. Joe Neguse, Judy Chu, Marcy Kaptur, Bobby Rush and Sens. Ron Wyden and Chris Coons led Tuesday’s letter, which was sent to Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“In the face of multiple challenges that our communities in Colorado are facing: unemployment, catastrophic wildfires and climate change, creation of a Civilian Climate Corps will bring in essential resources to put Coloradans back to work, restore our lands and our communities,” said Neguse, who brought the proposal before the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee that he chairs. The subcommittee will hold a hearing on the corps at 3 p.m. Tuesday, which can be seen on YouTube.

In a joint statement, the lawmakers noted that this week’s push marks the first time lawmakers had come together to align their priorities after previously introducing their own visions for a civilian corps.

“The United States experienced 22 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2020, shattering the previous annual record of 16 events,” they wrote. “2020 was the worst fire season on record, burning over 10.2 million acres and costing over $16 billion in damages and $3 billion in suppression costs. The U.S. experienced a record-breaking 30 named tropical cyclones, seven of which became billion-dollar disasters — also a new record. Nearly half of the U.S. has been in a drought since 2021 began, amplified by dangerous heatwaves with record-breaking temperatures.”

The lawmakers argued the chance to address climate change impacts by investing in jobs, public lands and green energy comes just as the U.S. is looking to recover from the unemployment crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Proposals for a Civilian Climate Corps also enjoy broad, bipartisan support: polling shows 77% of likely voters back the concept, including 65% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats, according to Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm.

“Congress must ensure these bold plans are brought to fruition by passing ambitious legislation that harnesses the enthusiasm Americans feel for the Civilian Climate Corps,” the lawmakers wrote. “Half of all voters under 45 say they would consider joining the Civilian Climate Corps if a position was available to them.”

The lawmakers said the corps should prioritize projects investing in natural climate solutions, clean energy, climate resilience and environmental justice; set strong labor standards; recruit diverse members from frontline communities seeing severe climate impacts; work through AmeriCorps and other national, state and local service groups; provide funding for programs and activities corps members will undertake through the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and others; and follow the lead of local communities.

In May, Markey said half of his and Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 1.5 million-member Civilian Climate Corps would come from communities of color such as Roxbury and Dorchester, where young people may benefit from training and career paths centered on combatting climate change, creating infrastructure and improving the sustainability of schools, buildings and entire cities.

Corps members will perform “work that rebuilds the economy and saves the planet all at the same time,” Markey said at the time.

“This is our moment,” he added. “We have to have this new army of young, Black, Latino, Asian, minority workers in this fight, to ensure that we save our planet. We can save all of creation by investing in massive job creation.”

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