The Energy Department Is Creating a Clean Energy Corps to Fix This Mess

The Energy Department Is Creating a Clean Energy Corps to Fix This Mess
Photo: Construction Photography, Getty Images

On Thursday, the Department of Energy announced a newly formed Clean Energy Corps. Rather than being an invading force, the plan is to have a veritable army of experts who can make the zero-carbon future we need a reality. No word yet on what the uniforms might look like, though.

The DOE’s new effort, first reported on by the Washington Post, will bring on 1,000 additional staffers from a litany of professions, backgrounds, and experience levels to tackle the task of decarbonization. The move would be the agency’s largest expansion of its workforce since its founding in 1977.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm released a video on Thursday describing the initiative in more detail. “The bipartisan infrastructure law puts DOE at the heart of President Biden’s plan to Build Back Better with Clean Energy,” Granholm said, adding that funding for the corps would come from the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure deal, which is a good use of the funds compared to some other options. “We are launching The Clean Energy Core to get it all done.”

Granholm went on to say the agency is actively recruiting energy leaders from the private sector, nonprofits, and the local government. It’s also looking to find project, grant, and portfolio managers, scientists, analysts, and a wide range of engineers. (If that sounds like you, DOE has launched a hiring portal where interested applicants can learn more about positions and indicate their area of interest.)

The idea plays off a proposal put forward by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed his own Peace Corps-style Climate Conservation Corps during his presidential bid. Inslee’s plan called for three separate tiers of civilian climate involvement. The first domestic tier would see civilians work on retrofitting buildings and constructing climate-friendly infrastructure in local communities. The second tier, meanwhile, would send participants overseas to learn about climate mitigation and resilience, while the final tier would focus on sustainable green energy job creation.

More recently, Democratic lawmakers, including Biden, floated the idea of a Civilian Climate Corps modelled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, a key facet of the New Deal. That proposal called for the federal government to pay civilians to engage in climate-related work like installing solar panels and providing water and supplies during extreme weather events.

Thursday’s Clean Energy Corps reveal followed a similar announcement from the Department of Homeland Security which said it’s creating a new “Climate Change Professionals Program” intended to recruit recent college graduates and federal employees interested in climate change and climate resilience. DOH secretary Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement claimed that the initiative would, “develop the next generation of climate experts,” and improve climate literacy.

These efforts are in service of trying to fulfil Biden’s pledge to cut U.S. carbon emissions at least 50% by 2030. Given the country’s rise in emissions last year, the continued entrenchment of the fossil fuel industry, and the log-jammed Senate, those targets seem rather optimistic. But a World War II-style civilian mobilisation like what’s coming to the DOE could increase the odds of success.