Some GOP Dismiss Idea of FDR-Like Civilian Corps, Say Jobs Too 'Dirty'

While President Joe Biden and fellow Democrats call for a New Deal-inspired Civilian Climate Corps that would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs for workers completing restoration and preventative work on the environment, some Republicans are dismissing the idea, the Associated Press reported. Several GOP members have said the corps would be a waste of money and could take jobs away from people who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Civilian Climate Corps is reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program in which workers completed restoration work on public lands and forests, created by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jobs created by Biden's corps would work on building trails, restoring streams and helping to prevent wildfires, the AP reported.

Arkansas Representative Bruce Westerman noted his grandfather's work in the New Deal corps, calling the labor "backbreaking" and stating that the U.S. doesn't need "another FDR program." Representative Cliff Bentz of Oregon dismissed the idea as "delusional" during a House Natural Resources Committee meeting last week.

"Why would we think people are going to suddenly jump at doing really, really hard, dirty, dangerous work because we offer them $15 an hour? That's not going to happen," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Biden Tours Ida Damage
Republicans are dismissing an idea from President Joe Biden to establish a Civilian Climate Corps that would create jobs completing restoration and preventative work on the environment. Biden talks with people as he tours a neighborhood impacted by flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Tuesday in the Queens borough of New York, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Building on Biden's oft-repeated comment that when he thinks of climate change, he thinks of jobs, the White House said the $10 billion program would address both priorities as young adults find work installing solar panels, planting trees, digging irrigation ditches and boosting outdoor recreation.

"We must seize this opportunity to build a big, bold pathway to critical careers, for a diverse generation of Americans ready to take on this existential crisis that we face," said Ali Zaidi, deputy White House climate adviser. "It's national service meets family-supporting careers meets the moment."

The effort comes as the White House and many Democrats are intensifying their focus on climate change after a series of devastating storms recently battered much of the nation. Touring neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey this week that were devastated by flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Biden said climate change has become "everybody's crisis."

"The threat is here. It is not getting any better," Biden said. "The question is can it get worse?"

The proposed climate corps was not included in a bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the Senate, but it is a key part of an emerging $3.5 trillion package backed by Democrats to help families and address climate change. A vote in the House on both bills could occur by the end of the month.

Representative Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat who has co-sponsored a climate corps bill, said it's important to train the next generation of U.S. land managers, park rangers and other stewards of our natural resources.

"This bold investment is a necessary response to the climate crisis and prioritizes the maintenance and upkeep of public lands," he said.

While the jobs should pay at least $15 an hour, those likely to join the climate corps "are not doing it for the compensation," Neguse said. "They know it's important to connect to nature and do important work for their state and the nation."

Details are still being worked out, but Neguse and other Democrats said the program should pay "a living wage" while offering health care coverage and support for child care, housing, transportation and education.

David Popp, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University, said a key distinction between the original Civilian Conservation Corps and the new climate contingent is that the U.S. economy is not in a depression—great or otherwise—as it was during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.

While U.S. employers added just 235,000 jobs in August, the unemployment rate decreased slightly to 5.2 percent as the economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of those being targeted for the new climate corps "could find employment elsewhere," Popp said, noting a proliferation of help-wanted signs at retail businesses across the nation.

"I don't know that an unemployed coal worker in West Virginia is going to move to Montana to take a minimum-wage job to restore streams," he said.

On the other hand, some of his own students are highly motivated by the climate crisis and may want to spend a year or two on an outdoor job that helps address an existential threat to the planet, Popp said.

"Many young people are very passionate about the environment, and they may see this as an opportunity to do something about the environment and still get paid for it," he said.

In a widely circulated piece, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page said Democrats want to "expand government into every corner of American life. It isn't enough to lecture Americans about the supposed perils of climate change. Now they also want to tax you and other Americans to pay your children to spend years lecturing you."

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, a prominent supporter of the climate corps, said such criticism overlooks important benefits.

The program will help communities recover from climate disasters such as Hurricane Ida and Western wildfires while creating "good-paying jobs that can turn into clean-economy careers," Markey said. In the process, the climate corps will "make the country a safer, healthier place that can compete in the global economy," he added.

"As the West Coast fights fires and the East Coast fights storms and smoke, the editorial board fights straw men," Markey said in a letter to the newspaper.

The urgency of the climate crisis "recalls past chapters of national mobilization," Neguse said. "In standing up the Civilian Climate Corps, we will build on that legacy and existing infrastructure to meet the challenges of today."

Caldor Fire
President Joe Biden's proposed Civilian Climate Corps would work to prevent future destructive wildfires in the U.S., among other environment-related objectives. The sun sets as the Caldor Fire burns in Kirkwood, California on August 31. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images