Illinois inspired the idea behind Biden’s green jobs corps. Now, Illinois needs to get on board.

President Biden created the American Climate Corps to send money to states that created green jobs programs for young people. Yet Illinois, which first inspired the idea, is sitting on the sidelines.

SHARE Illinois inspired the idea behind Biden’s green jobs corps. Now, Illinois needs to get on board.
Two young people prepare to cut and clear invasive species from Possum Hollow Woods in La Grange Park as part of a Cook County Forest Preserve program, July 26, 2021.

Two young people prepare to cut and clear invasive species of plants from Possum Hollow Woods in La Grange Park as part of a Cook County Forest Preserve program, July 26, 2021. Green jobs like this are the focus of President Biden’s new climate corps.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Illinois led the way for other states to create programs to hire young people to do environmental jobs. So where is Illinois’ own program?

A bit of background: Adopting a campaign originally led by the Illinois environmental group Openlands, President Joe Biden’s 2021 Build Back Better legislation included $30 billion to create a version of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps that would train young people to build green projects around the country, such as maintaining and restoring parks, trails and natural areas.

The New Deal-era CCC built parks, trails and natural amenities throughout Illinois and across the nation, a legacy that endures in many places, including the construction of the lodge at Starved Rock State Park and the Skokie Lagoons.

Editorial

Editorial

Unfortunately, Congress cut the idea of a new CCC-style program from the final Build Back Better legislation, which was renamed the Inflation Reduction Act. But 10 states — five of them just recently — went ahead and created their own programs anyway, understanding how such programs would provide good-paying jobs, teach workers important skills and help the environment.

Surprisingly, Illinois wasn’t one of those states. That should change, and quickly.

On Wednesday, Biden issued an executive order picking up on the idea by creating a more modest American Climate Corps to hire more than 20,000 young adults in clean energy, conservation and climate-protecting jobs.

Clearly, if Illinois doesn’t get its act together, it will leave money from that program on the table that it could use for its own CCC-style green jobs program. The deadline for states to apply for money through the American Climate Corps is April 1.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who pushed for an updated CCC-style program in the last two Congresses, called the creation of the American Climate Corps “great news, and a huge win for our environment.”

Jerry Adelmann, CEO of Openlands, told us, “Given the dual crisis of climate change and loss of biodiversity — and the effect we are seeing on people’s lives, especially in underserved communities — a program such as the American Climate Corps could not be more relevant.”

Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We see this as an important and valuable program.”

Utah, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Minnesota, Washington and North Carolina have set up their own programs, which now can be linked to Biden’s national program. Why are those states benefiting from Illinois’ idea, while Illinois sits on the sidelines?

For the benefit of the state, the nation, young adults who need jobs and training, and the planet, Illinois has to get moving.

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