with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Climate activists feel like they helped elect Joe Biden. Now they want to make sure he follows through.

A slew of policy and personnel suggestions put forward for the president-elect on tackling global warming – just days after Biden's victory – are the opening shots from the environmental left in a lobbying effort to make sure Biden doesn't backslide on commitments to try to cut greenhouse gas emissions once in office.

Amid both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic recession, they say they want to make sure that climate change remains a priority from the get-go.

“When you move from campaigning to governing, and especially in this incredibly unusual moment that we find ourselves in with a global health crisis and a deep economic crisis, there are so many competing priorities,” said Bracken Hendricks, co-founder and senior policy adviser of the environmental group Evergreen.

Perhaps the most eye-catching ask is a wish list of Cabinet picks from young progressive activists. 

The Sunrise Movement put forward a list of left-leaning allies who they want to see put in charge of agencies.

For Environmental Protection Agency administrator, the youth-led climate group would like to see Biden pick Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former assistant associate administrator for environmental justice at the agency who quit after Trump took office in 2017. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) is their favorite to run the Interior Department. She would be the first Native American to run the department in charge of federal and tribal lands.

But Sunrise is also weighing in on Cabinet picks beyond environmental agencies — in the State, Labor and Justice departments, among others — in a sign it expects a government-wide initiative to address what it sees as a generational crisis.

To that end, both Sunrise and Justice Democrats, a progressive group that helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), also endorsed the creation of a new climate office in the White House to coordinate those efforts.

Lauren Maunus, legislative and advocacy manager at Sunrise, said one of the group's main concerns was making sure no one in Biden's Cabinet has ties to fossil fuel companies. “First and foremost, we want to make sure that people are in office who are aligned with the type of action that we need and that Biden was elected on,” she said.

Similarly, a coalition of more than 130 climate groups — including 350.org and Greenpeace — sent a letter to Biden's transition team with a list of criteria for vetting picks for the Treasury Department and other financial agencies. 

Biden should avoid corporate executives and lobbyists, it read, and focus on candidates who “believe climate change threatens individual financial institutions, the financial system and the broader economy.” 

Other environmentalists want to make sure Biden follows through on commitments made during the campaign.

Evergreen, a group made up of former staffers to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), released a list of 46 steps Biden can take alone.

The itinerary, which includes convening a world summit on climate change and tightening pollution rules on cars and power plants, was mostly derived from Biden's existing climate plan. Evergreen published the list, it said, to help keep the Biden administration on task during its first days in office.

“This is really kind of a study guide,” Hendricks said. “It's a Cliff Notes version.”

Biden may have to tackle climate change without much cooperation from Congress. Democrats will need to win two runoff elections in Georgia in January to get control of the Senate. (If Democrats eke out a 50-50 tie, Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.) 

One of Biden's biggest promises during the campaign was to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters. But actually doing so in office will likely face stiff resistance from some labor groups and Democrats in oil-producing states.

In an email sent the day after most news networks called the race for Biden, the Sierra Club, one of the nation's oldest green groups, told millions of its members it needs Biden "to take the price tag off public lands.” 

Michael Brune, the group's executive director, said that promise was “a big reason” why its members campaigned for Biden. 

“We are confident that the president elect and his new administration will honor their commitments,” he said.

Power plays

Biden’s chief of staff pick has ties to clean energy projects, including Solyndra.

He played a key role in administering the 2009 stimulus package, which funneled money to the clean energy companies. Among them was solar energy start-up Solyndra, which eventually went belly up. “Klain was accused of dismissing auditors' concerns about Solyndra,” E&E News reports.

He served as chief of staff to Biden while he was vice president under the Obama administration. As he returns to the White House, he will play an influential role in shaping political priorities.

Politico Magazine writer Michael Grunwald recounts his reporting on the Obama stimulus and Solyndra:

A longtime figure in Democratic politics, Klain also served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore and worked for Green New Deal co-sponsor Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) in the 1980s. 

Both moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party have praised his appointment. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the other key Green New Deal co-sponsor, called it “good news.” 

Klain is married to Monica Medina, who has had a long career in working on environmental issues in the government, including in a senior role at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

A senior Justice Department official stalled a probe against former interior secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen deferred a bid from line prosecutors to move forward with possible criminal charges against former interior secretary Ryan Zinke, saying they needed to gather more evidence and refine the case, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations,” our colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Matt Zapotosky report

Prosecutors in 2019 presented evidence to a grand jury that Zinke lied to federal investigators about a case in which the interior secretary declined to grant a petition to two Indian tribes seeking to operate a casino in Connecticut. The tribes alleged that Zinke did not grant the petition because of political pressure from lawmakers receiving donations from competitor MGM, which operated a nearby casino.

Audubon Society hit by allegations that it devalues women and people of color on staff.

“Following a botched diversity meeting, a highly critical employee survey and the resignations of two top diversity and inclusion officials, the 600,000-member National Audubon Society is confronting allegations that it maintains a culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism toward women and people of color, according to interviews with 13 current and former staff members,” Politico reports.

Devin Trotter, a senior diversity officer, resigned last month, claiming that CEO David Yarnold had attempted to pressure him to reveal who participated in a survey that showed widespread dissatisfaction among employees with the organization’s commitment to diversity. (Yarnold has disputed this account.) Trotter’s departure came not long after Deeohn Ferris, the former head of diversity and inclusion, left the organization. 

Biden discussed climate change with Pope Francis.

“The president-elect expressed his desire to work together on the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities,” a readout published by the Biden transition team states.

Pope Francis released an encyclical on climate change in 2015, calling for a “broad cultural revolution” to confront a climate crisis that was disproportionately affecting the poor.

Jockeying for Biden Ag secretary heats up.

Rep. Marcia Fudge is making a pitch to be named Biden's Agriculture secretary. The Democratic congresswoman from Ohio is a longtime member of the House Agriculture Committee and the chair of the nutrition subcommittee, which oversees USDA operations. If nominated, she would be the first African American woman in the position.

“I've been very, very loyal to the ticket,” Fudge told Politico. She said that she has not spoken to the Biden transition team about the role.

Fudge may face fierce competition from former senator from North Dakota Heidi Heitkamp, who has been seen as the front-runner for the position. Heitkamp has faced growing opposition, however, from progressive groups who think that she is too closely tied to big business interests, Politico reports.

Vox reporter Dylan Matthews said it was shaping up to be a “super-consequential fight”:

Conservation groups sue to stop $1 billion transmission line.

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Appalachian Mountain Club filed a preliminary injunction on Wednesday in an effort to stop a 145-mile power transmission line that would bring Canadian hydropower to the New England grid, the Associated Press reports

Supporters say the power line would reduce greenhouse emissions and stabilize energy grids, while opponents argue that the project, which would widen existing corridors and cut a new path through 53 miles of wilderness, harms habitats and ecosystems. Opponents have already sued to force the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a more rigorous environmental impact statement.

It's not all bad

A monstrously large alligator was spotted in a Florida gulf club during Tropical Storm Eta.

“Large alligators are far from an uncommon sight in the state of Florida — fans of the University of Florida even cheer on the Gators mascot — but this one gained attention for its rather prehistoric appearance,” NBC News reports.