A new federal program plans to bolster the ‘green’ workforce like CCC of old
By Chloe Bennett
About 90 years ago, a group in the Adirondacks built trails, campsites and dams for six months while sleeping in tents. The Civilian Conservation Corps, only open to young men, was an effort to employ people during the Great Depression while attempting to improve the county’s natural environment. Nationwide, the corps planted 3 billion trees and built structures some of which remain today.
Now, as climate change mitigation is at the global forefront, the U.S. is designing a similar program that could make its way to the Adirondacks, and it will be open to any “young” person in the country, no degree required.
The Biden administration in September announced the start of the American Climate Corps to train and employ people in climate-focused jobs. Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s nine-year program from the 1930s, Biden’s climate corps was in development for years with encouragement from lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
The initiative aims to hire 20,000 young people in its first year and plans to be anchored in equity and environmental justice, a White House press release states. The partnership is between AmeriCorps, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Departments of Labor, Interior, Agriculture, and Energy. Age and pay details have not been released, although a White House spokesperson told the New York Times that some programs will not have age limits.
Before the announcement, the Adirondack Council advocated for a similar program in New York, bringing the idea to Rep. Paul Tonko’s office. John Sheehan, director of communications for the council, said both parties understand the value of such initiatives.
“Really, we’re trying to transform the economy very much the way we were in the 1930s,” Sheehan said. “In this case, instead of industrializing, to try and curb climate change and move the economy to green energy.”
Land management and renewable energy jobs are among a list of potential workforce programs that could be relevant in the park. The same day the climate corps was introduced, a forestry project to prevent wildfires and restore lands was launched with plans to house and train 80 people aged 18 to 24 next summer. It’s unclear whether any of those corps workers, who will receive $15 an hour, will come to the Adirondacks.
In a prepared statement, Tonko, who is involved in several statewide climate initiatives, said he was thrilled to see the announcement. “Going forward, I’m eager to see this program bring good-paying jobs for a new generation of workers in our Capital Region, the North Country, and beyond,” he said in an email.
It could take longer for the climate program to reach the park. The federal government is still designing it and local organizations are waiting for more details. Jill Henck, the clean energy program director for the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA), said she’s hoping it comes to fruition in 2024.
Although the organization is keeping the program on its radar, Henck said it will need to recruit more than 20,000 trainees to meet state and federal climate goals.
“If we could potentially pair with somebody who is from a marginalized community in another part of the country and bring them to the Adirondacks, I think that would be a great opportunity to show them what’s going on here, but also the exposure of different faces into the Adirondacks would be helpful,” Henck, who is also on the state’s Climate Justice Working Group, said.
Existing climate funding like the New York State Clean Energy Internship Program is already in use in the park. Henck said three ANCA interns were funded by the program, leading to two full-time jobs with the organization.
Still, the federal program could be beneficial by increasing the North Country workforce in the future. The Biden administration is working with labor unions, and Henck said climate fellows will likely assist renewable energy projects like solar arrays.
Following the inaugural Timbuctoo Climate Science and Careers Summer Institute, Sheehan said the region is primed for a program like the climate corps.
“I think that this is an important opportunity and one that the Adirondacks can play a really special role in,” he said. “And I would say that we are already miles ahead of other locations in terms of preparations for the federal program.”
Those interested in the American Climate Corps can sign up for it here.