As Biden’s climate body languishes, states move forward

Maine is set to join a growing number of states in launching a program of services to mitigate and prepare for climate change.

The goal of the Climate Corps initiative is both to make a difference on climate issues and to create career paths for young people interested in conservation, renewable energy or other related work. The effort will focus on projects in areas such as community resilience planning, energy education and awareness, household energy management and conservation, regenerative agriculture and solar energy. community.

“We designed it as ambitious because tackling the climate crisis is an ambitious task,” said State Rep. Morgan Rielly, who campaigned on the idea of ​​a climate body and backed the bill that created it. “You have to fix it systemically.”

Despite the lofty aims of the corps, it will be launched with modest support. The legislature allocated $200,000 for the program, well below the million dollars proposed in the original bill. Some $80,000 will fund staff and administration and $120,000 will pay those who choose to serve.

“The amount requested was larger, but we will move forward with what we received,” said Kirsten Brewer, Maine Climate Corps coordinator.

Maine Governor Janet Mills signed the bill establishing the body in May. The initiative is still in its infancy. Brewer was hired to coordinate the program under Volunteer Maine, the state service commission. She is currently working on a request for proposals that will ask potential partner organizations to suggest projects that could be operational by winter or spring.

The Maine Climate Corps will pay people who work on these projects — often called “members” — a small stipend to help cover living expenses while serving. The exact sum is yet to be determined, but for comparison, full-time AmeriCorps volunteers in Maine receive a minimum of $20,000 for one year of service.

The partner organizations will be responsible for the training, equipment and resources needed to carry out the planned work. Partner groups may end up contributing more to stipends or member benefits, depending on the specific proposal, Brewer said. She will also seek additional sources of funding, such as grants from foundations or private donors, she said.

An idea with deep roots

The idea of ​​the government creating a dedicated corps of civilians to tackle projects has deep roots in American history. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established several such groups, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, as part of his New Deal policy to help the country recover from the Great Depression. In 1961 the Peace Corps was launched to support developing countries and in 1993 AmeriCorps was founded to provide similar services nationally.

And national bodies have been proven to offer significant value. One study found that every $1 of federal money invested in a service corps yields over $17 in benefits.

President Joe Biden has spoken frequently about his plan to form a Civilian Climate Corps, to apply the same model to pressing issues of climate change mitigation and resilience, but his proposals have stalled in Congress. At the same time, states and local governments have moved forward. California launched its climate action body in 2020. Colorado launched its climate body in early 2022. In Texas, Travis County commissioners voted in April 2021 to create a civilian climate body, and in Wisconsin the Dane County is in the process of starting a similar program. .

“We’ve seen a lot more interest in these programs,” said Hannah Traverse, communications manager for The Corps Network, a national service corps association. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a dozen bills related to creating some kind of civilian climate body.”

Maine’s climate body has its origins in the state’s climate action plan, Maine won’t waitwhich was released in late 2020. Following the plan’s recommendations, state lawmakers last year authorized a study on how to structure a successful program and which public and private organizations could partner in the effort.

Make the right choices

It is widely accepted that a climate corps program will need to make equity a key part of its approach, ensuring that everyone can serve, regardless of their socio-economic background. This orientation is especially important given the role that corps service can play in helping members develop professional skills and professional relationships.

Many argue that standard pay levels nationwide — typically below $20,000 — aren’t high enough to make the service an option for people without a financial cushion.

“We would like to see an increase in compensation for corps members to make it an option for anyone who wants to serve,” Traverse said.

Yet similar service programs in Maine offer evidence that a climate body could be an effective effort. The Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional association of municipal governments, has been running a resilience corps in partnership with AmeriCorps for nearly two years now, and the impact is evident, said program manager Julie Breul.

Corps members are able to devote their attention to projects that busy cities with tight budgets might not have the expertise or the money to undertake, she said. A fellow is leading the development of a climate action plan in the town of Falmouth, for example.

Part of the Resilience Corps’ success, Breul said, has been its use of what she calls a cohort model. In other programs, volunteers may feel isolated if they are the only member working with a certain organization. The Resilience Corps combats this effect by ensuring that members have the opportunity to receive mentorship, connect and communicate with each other, even when placed in different organizations. The program can even help them find accommodation together.

“Nobody floats alone,” Breul said. “There are dedicated people who want to support them and incorporate them into their work.”

Brewer hopes the climate body will be able to prove its effectiveness and find a way to continue beyond its pilot period.

“As long as there is still work to be done,” she said, “we hope it’s an ongoing effort.”

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