Starting this month, thousands of young people will begin doing climate-related work around the West as part of a new service-based federal jobs program, the American Climate Corps, or ACC. The jobs they do will vary, from wildland firefighters and “lawn busters” to urban farm fellows and traditional ecological knowledge stewards. Some will work on food security or energy conservation in cities, while others will tackle invasive species and stream restoration on public land.

The Climate Corps was modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, with the goal of eventually creating tens of thousands of jobs while simultaneously addressing the impacts of climate change.

Applications were released on Earth Day, and Maggie Thomas, President Joe Biden’s special assistant on climate, told High Country News that the program’s website has already had hundreds of thousands of views. Since its launch, nearly 250 jobs across the West have been posted, accounting for more than half of all the listed ACC positions.

“Obviously, the West is facing tremendous impacts of climate change,” Thomas said. “It’s changing faster than many other parts of the country. If you look at wildfire, if you look at extreme heat, there are so many impacts. I think that there’s a huge role for the American Climate Corps to be tackling those crises.”

“There’s a huge role for the American Climate Corps to be tackling those crises.”

Most of the current positions are staffed through state or nonprofit entities, such as the Montana Conservation Corps or Great Basin Institute, many of which work in partnership with federal agencies that manage public lands across the West. In New Mexico, for example, members of Conservation Legacy’s Ecological Monitoring Crew will help the Bureau of Land Management collect soil and vegetation data. In Oregon, young people will join the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working in firefighting, fuel reduction and timber management in national forests.

New jobs are being added regularly. Deadlines for summer positions have largely passed, but new postings for hundreds more positions are due later this year or on a rolling basis, such as the Working Lands Program, which is focused on “climate-smart agriculture.”  Funding for the ACC was cut from the final version of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, so the administration had to get creative to achieve its goal. It established “implementing partners” across three categories: federal agencies, states and nonprofits that receive grant money from federal agencies. Federal partners include the Environmental Protection Agency, AmeriCorps and the departments of Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, Labor and Energy. Thirteen states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Washington, have also launched their own state-level climate corps, using a combination of state and federal funds.

The partner groups see this approach as an ideal way to leverage local knowledge and expertise.  “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” said JP Patton, director of the California Conservation Corps, which has been in operation for 47 years and has 39 positions posted.

The ACC’s implementing partners are already seeing benefits. Amy Sovocool, director of Conservation Legacy, told High Country News the group has noticed an uptick in job applications since the ACC launched.

“I’m hoping that this really is a catalyst that can help promote and highlight the opportunities for the young people to serve,” Sovocool said.

On the ACC website, applicants can sort jobs by state, work environment and focus area, such as “Indigenous knowledge reclamation” or “food waste reduction.” Job descriptions include an hourly pay equivalent — some corps jobs pay weekly or term-based stipends instead of an hourly wage — and benefits. The site is fairly user-friendly, in part owing to suggestions made by the young people who participated in the ACC listening sessions earlier this year.

The sessions helped determine other priorities as well, Thomas said, including creating good-paying jobs that could lead to long-term careers, as well as alignment with the president’s Justice40 initiative, which mandates that at least 40% of federal climate funds must go to marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution.

High Country News found that 30% of jobs listed across the West have explicit justice and equity language, from affordable housing in low-income communities to Indigenous knowledge and cultural reclamation for Native youth.

AmeriCorps and conservation corps programs have been criticized for offering low wages and few benefits. Historically, they have also excluded people of color, women and low-income communities, according to reporting by The 19th, an independent news organization. It’s yet to be seen if the ACC will remedy these past issues, but the Biden administration insists that it wants to create good jobs for everybody.

 “I’m hoping that this really is a catalyst that can help promote and highlight the opportunities for the young people to serve.”

While the administration aims for all positions to pay at least $15 an hour, the lowest-paid position in the West is currently listed at $11 an hour. Benefits also vary widely, though most include an education benefit, and, in some cases, health care, child care and housing.

All corps members will have access to pre-apprenticeship curriculum through the North America’s Building Trades Union. Matthew Mayers, director of the Green Workers Alliance, called this an important step for young people who want to pursue union jobs in renewable energy. Some members will also be eligible for the federal pathways program, which was recently expanded to increase opportunities for permanent positions in the federal government.

The Biden administration has requested $8.04 billion in the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2025 to further expand the ACC. This includes $15 million to establish an ACC hub within AmeriCorps to administer the program and coordinate federal partners, as well as $8 billion in mandatory funding for 50,000 ACC members annually by 2031.

“To think that there will be young people in every community across the country working on climate solutions and really being equipped with the tools they need to succeed in the workforce of the future,” Thomas said, “to me, that is going to be an incredible thing to see.”

Brooke Larsen is the Virginia Spencer Davis Fellow for HCN, covering rural communities, agriculture and conservation. She reports from Salt Lake City, Utah. Email her at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @jbrookelarsen or Twitter @JBrookeLarsen.

This article first appeared on High Country News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.