Biden Administration Proposes New Civilian Climate Corps

Biden Administration Proposes New Civilian
Climate Corps

May 3, 2021
On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at
Home and Abroad.” Among its various provisions, the order directs the Secretary of the Interior, in
collaboration with the Secretary of Agriculture and the heads of other relevant agencies, to submit a
strategy to create a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative “within existing appropriations.” The order further
directs that such an initiative should “aim to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster
community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector,
protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.” In March 2021, the
Biden Administration included a recommendation for a $10 bil ion investment in the Civilian Climate
Corps Initiative as part of the White House’s American Jobs Plan proposal. The Administration’s initial
topline FY2022 discretionary budget request for the Department of the Interior (DOI) included $200
mil ion for the initiative for the next fiscal year; additional funding information may be made available
Although some stakeholders have likened the proposed Civilian Climate Corps to past federal
employment and service corps programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), it is not yet
clear how and in what form the Biden Administration plans to implement this initiative. The CCC was a
federal employment and job training program operating from 1933 to 1943, which put to work 3 mil ion
unemployed young men on projects aimed at the “conservation and development of the natural resources
of the United States” (50 Stat. 319). CCC enrollees were recruited, hired, and trained by the federal
government; worked under federal supervision; lived in government-run camps; and received stipends
paid with federal funding.
The Biden Administration’s proposal for a Civilian Climate Corps could mirror the Depression-era CCC
approach, or it could resemble a contemporary model for federal corps programs. Many of today’s federal
corps programs are comparatively smal er in scale than the original CCC and vary in design, location, and
scope of work. In general, these programs offer participants—sometimes referred to as corpsmembers—a
variety of benefits in exchange for their service. These benefits can include a wage stipend, housing,
classroom training, experiential and environmental education, professional support services, and post-
service education awards.
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The two primary federal corps programs related to conserving and restoring public lands and waters are
the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC; 16 U.S.C. §§1701-1706) and the Public Lands Corps (PLC; 16
U.S.C. §§1721 et seq.).
The YCC engages young people (aged 15-18) for 8-10 weeks over the summer to
work on conservation-related projects on federal lands and waters under the jurisdiction of DOI and the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). By contrast, the PLC is a job training and employment program
for young adults (aged 16-30 or up to 35 for military veterans) to engage in projects administered by
selected agencies within DOI, USDA, and the Department of Commerce (DOC). Under the YCC and the
PLC, agencies general y do not administer corps programs; instead, they typical y partner with local y
based, nonfederal corps organizations (sometimes referred to as sponsoring organizations). These
organizations are primarily responsible for the recruitment, hiring, and management of participants.
In some cases, agencies may be authorized to recruit, hire, and manage corpsmembers directly for
agency-specific projects on federal lands. For example, the Job Corps program (29 U.S.C. §§3101 et
administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), includes a conservation component. Of the
program’s 121 residential centers, 24 are Civilian Conservation Centers administered by the U.S. Forest
Service within USDA. Students aged 16-24 live at these centers, and their job training focuses on
conserving, developing, or managing Forest Service lands. The YCC and PLC statutes also authorize
agencies to administer their own corps programs; in practice, most partner with nonfederal corps partners.
The federal government provides support and funding to organizations that sponsor individuals to work
on conservation efforts in other ways. For example, sponsoring organizations may receive funding
through AmeriCorps grant programs to support their work recruiting and engaging corpsmembers for
conservation projects. AmeriCorps (formal y known as the Corporation for National and Community
Service) is an independent federal agency that supports a wide range of national service programs and
projects, including conservation-related work. Agencies also may al ocate a portion of their annual
appropriations—at the agencies’ discretion or at Congress’s direction—for projects on federal lands and
waters carried out through corps partnerships. For YCC and PLC projects, agencies enter into cost-share
agreements with organizations and cover a percentage of the project costs, which could include
corpsmember stipends, housing, or other associated costs.
The Biden Administration has not released its strategy for how the proposed Civilian Climate Corps
would be implemented or how such an initiative would interact with the existing corps programs or
federal workforce programs. Prior administrative proposals to establish or increase corps participation in
conservation-related work have relied on public-private partnerships and the existing corps infrastructure
to meet their goals. For example, in 2012, the Obama Administration established the 21st Century
Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) as a broad interagency initiative aimed at expanding opportunities
and funding for youth employment and training on public lands. The 21CSC Federal Advisory
Committee, tasked with developing recommendations for how best to implement the 21CSC program,
specified that unlike the original CCC, the 21CSC should be “operated primarily by non-federal partners.”
Following the Biden Administration’s announcement, some stakeholders proposed the new program take
a hybrid approach, combining funding and support for local corps organizations with federal agencies
directly administering some program activities, similar to the original CCC approach.
Some Members of Congress have put forth proposals for establishing a Civilian Climate Corps, as wel as
bil s aimed at increasing corps participation on public lands and waters more broadly. These proposals
vary in scale and concept, with some cal ing for the establishment of a new, federal y operated climate
and others looking to bolster the existing conservation corps model with additional federal funding
or support. For a brief overview of some of the bil s introduced in the 116th Congress, see CRS Report
R46513, Federal Conservation Corps Programs: Options for Congress in Response to COVID-19, by
Mark K. DeSantis.

Congressional Research Service
Author Information

Mark K. DeSantis

Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

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