Half of the proposed 1.5 million-member Civilian Climate Corps will 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, Sen. Ed Markey says.
In a news conference at Roxbury Community College on Monday, the Malden Democrat touted the proposed civilian service group, which is a new addition to the Green New Deal resolution that he and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York reintroduced on Capitol Hill last month.
President Joe Biden included the corps in his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, calling 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.
Corps members will perform “work that rebuilds the economy and saves the planet all at the same time,” Markey said.
The Civilian Climate Corps has its roots in the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps. But Markey’s and Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal focuses heavily on equity. 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.
The program is meant “to tap into the talent, imagination, enthusiasm and all the idealism of this generation,” Markey said. He noted that Roxbury Community College’s Center for Smart Building Technology serves as a model for the nation by providing “profitable training that closes the skills gap and increases diversity in climate-focused jobs.”
“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.”
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said that unemployment in Roxbury is “routinely double the unemployment rate in the rest of our commonwealth.”
“And as we’ve seen all too starkly in the past year, when Massachusetts catches a cold in terms of economic impact, Roxbury catches the flu,” she added. Chang-Diaz credited Markey for recognizing “underemployed, underrepresented communities ... he doesn’t see deficit, he sees assets.”
The corps program would also provide financial grants of up to $25,000 for a year of service and up to $50,000 to help pay down student loan debt or invest in further education. Markey said the service work was “accessible for any American, regardless of circumstance, with a desire to help to build a new economy that is sustainable and equitable.”
“We believe the return on investment will be extraordinary,” Frank Mruk, RCC’s Smart Building Technology Program executive director, told reporters. He said the service program marked “ambitious investments in our people, communities and the future of the planet, and would undoubtedly create many jobs in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.
Markey and Ocasio-Cortez say the Green New Deal, initially unveiled in February of 2019, has paired with an uprising of support for efforts to blunt the economic and public health impacts of climate change. More than 100 municipalities across the country have launched initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and automakers are ramping up production of zero-emission vehicles, the lawmakers note. Cities like Boston have introduced plans to create more sustainable streets and electrify fleets; General Motors, Markey noted, plans to produce only electric vehicles by 2035, a move “that was not on the scoreboard for GM just one year ago.”
The Green New Deal calls on the U.S. to lead the push to lower global emissions and to address the economic and health impacts of climate change. The resolution also calls on the federal government to jolt the economy with jobs in renewable energy, infrastructure and sustainability. Biden says his jobs plan will create blue collar jobs that will help bolster U.S. energy independence and protect the environment.
If approved by Congress — a tall order with an evenly-split Senate — the Civilian Climate Corps will be administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service within AmeriCorps, according to Markey’s office.
Normally, a package like the American Jobs Plan would require support from two-thirds of the U.S. Senate; at least 10 Republicans would have to get on board to get the package to Biden’s desk.
But in March, Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan after Democrats sidestepped Senate rules by linking the package to Congress’s annual budget reconciliation bill, which only requires a simple majority to pass. Polling showed broad support among the American public, but no Republicans voted for the bill. Republicans have argued that Biden’s spending far too much — he also recently announced a nearly $2 trillion education and families aid bill — and Americans are less enthusiastic about the president’s expansive $2 trillion jobs plan.
But Markey said it’s time for progressives to keep pushing.
“There’s a groundswell of popular support for fundamental change in our country, that changed our government and drove Donald Trump back to Mar-a-Lago,” he said. “We have to keep our energy levels at a historically high level and organize a network across the United States. We’re not going to agonize, we’re going to organize to fight for these programs.”
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“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Massachusetts to take a quantum leap or two on some of the things that voters have been telling Beacon Hill for a long time that they want to see us do,” Chang-Díaz said.