with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Many young people are eager to tackle climate change. The incoming administration may offer a way to channel that energy.  

An often-overlooked piece of President-elect Joe Biden's climate plan is a proposed program to put people in their late teens and 20s to work safeguarding the country against the effects of global warming.

During the campaign, Biden called for mobilizing “the next generation of conservation and resilience workers through a Civilian Climate Corps.” Now Biden’s allies are beginning to think about what exactly such a program will look like as he prepares to take office next month.

“The reason that I'm excited is that it meets the moment,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, who worked with Biden’s late son Beau as head of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and who was one of the first major environmentalists to endorse Biden. “It's a way to solve multiple problems in a very nonpartisan way.” 

But the Biden administration will have to contend with a sharply divided Congress, where lawmakers are still struggling to agree on pandemic relief. 

Putting young people to conservation work is a two-birds-with-one-stone win, proponents say. 

A work program that has young people planting trees, restoring wetlands and otherwise helping nature sequester carbon dioxide would help boost the economy weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic and bolster ecosystems battered by fiercer floods and fires, they argue.

Past Democratic presidents have enlisted young people to respond to crises of their day. Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a key part of his New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corps, in 1933 to put young men to work during the Great Depression. Three decades later, John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to exert soft power against Russia in the midst of the Cold War.

Similar conservation programs run by some state governments, including California and New Jersey, help fight forest fires and run hunting programs. And a number nongovernmental organizations run their own corps programs, too.

“Young Americans are more concerned about climate change than any previous generation, and that's in big part because they were born into the daily consequences of climate change,” said Tom Murray, a vice president at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, which runs its own climate corps that places graduate students in local governments and businesses. 

“The interest from young graduate students across the country far exceeds our ability to keep up with them,” Murray said. 

That economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak has hit young adults particularly hard.

“It is absolutely necessary and timely, even before covid-19 and the economic downturn that resulted,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, head of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, which represents about 135 service programs. 

Young people between 18 and 25, particularly those from low-income and minority communities, have much higher unemployment rates.”

A lot of Biden's climate plan won't make it past Senate Republicans. But a climate corps has a chance.

The fate of much of Biden's $2 trillion proposal to cut emissions from the electric and transportation sectors will depend of whether Democrats win two runoff Senate elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

But Republicans, especially ones with rural constituencies, have gone to bat for similar work programs. 

For example, the Trump administration backed away from shutting down a U.S. Forest Service program called the Job Corps that trains disadvantaged young people after bipartisan outcry in Congress, including from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

“There is demonstrable bipartisan support for it,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden confidant. In June, Coons introduced a bill with more than a half-dozen Republican co-sponsors boosting funding for service programs nationwide.

On the other side of the political spectrum, progressive climate activists often point to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the rest of Roosevelt's economic agenda as inspiration for their own Green New Deal proposal.

One big question: How to get a climate corps going?

Biden could stand up a new corps through an executive order — similar to how Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961 and got congressional authorization for it the following year. 

By repurposing existing funds, “the potential is there to have to put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people to work,” O'Mara said, 

But he added, “If you want to have multiple millions go to work, you're going to need congressional appropriations.” 

Plenty of high-quality national service programs focusing on conservation exist across the country, Coons said. He thinks it would make sense for Congress to boost funding of them — both to hire more people and pay them better wages. 

“There is this existing nationwide infrastructure for national service,” he said. “The challenge isn't, do you need to create a whole new infrastructure? It is, can you get the funding?” 

Power plays

U.N. leader warns the pace of climate change has humanity on "suicidal" path.

In an unusually stark speech at Columbia University, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said: “To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken.”

Guterres was presenting a new U.N. report that found the past six years, including 2020, are likely to be the warmest six on record, our colleague Andrew Freedman reports

“This year will be one of the three hottest on record for the globe, as marine heat waves swelled over 80 percent of the world’s oceans, and triple-digit heat invaded Siberia, one of the planet’s coldest places,” Freedman writes.

Charles E. Schumer goes to bat for Mary Nichols to be Biden's Environmental Protection Agency chief. 

The Senate minority leader has told the Biden transition team that he supports Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, to be the agency's next leader, according to a Senate source with direct knowledge of the conservation who spoke anonymously to discuss internal deliberations.

Nichols has been central to blue states' fight with the Trump administration over environmental rollbacks. Most notably, when Trump's EPA reserved tougher air pollution rules for new cars, Nichols brokered an agreement with four major automakers to maintain higher standards in California. 

EPA head is quarantining after exposure to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement on Wednesday that he will be attending the 50th anniversary Nixon Library environmental exhibit opening virtually over concerns that he may have been exposed to the virus.

“Earlier today I was informed I experienced secondary exposure from an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. After consulting my doctor and out of an abundance of caution, I will quarantine until I’ve gone through the proper testing protocols,” Wheeler said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, the agency joined the conservative social media network Parler, which has attracted traditional conservatives and Republican lawmakers, as well as far-right groups, the Hill reports.

Vineyard Wind switches offshore wind turbines as Biden prepares to take office.

The company will temporarily withdraw its project from the federal permitting process to incorporate GE’s Haliade-X towers into its design, the Boston Globe reports. “Vineyard Wind’s chief executive, Lars Pedersen, portrayed the switch as good news, though it will further stretch out the already-protracted permitting process,” the Globe writes.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt put a review of the project on hold in 2019 to examine the impact on commercial fisheries, a delay that some project supporters was politically motivated. Similarly, the purchase of turbine from an American company aligns with Biden's support for domestic manufacturers.

Republican states say that they are prepared to fight Biden’s efforts to cut emissions.

Biden has not yet said how he will achieve his campaign promise to bring the U.S. economy to net zero emissions by 2050, but he could face a challenge in the form of litigation from state governments that have vowed to fight any federally mandated emissions reductions, Reuters writes

“Republican-governed Mississippi, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Arkansas said they would challenge any new federal policies requiring the power sector to cut carbon emissions. Utah and Missouri, also under Republican governors, said they would review proposals before deciding.”

All of these states were among the 27 that sued in 2015 to block implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to address climate change.

On Capitol Hill

House Republicans and Democrats begin picking key committee leaders.

The House Republican Steering Committee picked Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) to serve as the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and backed Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) for the lead GOP spot on the Natural Resources Committee, Politico reports

McMorris Rodgers, who boasts a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, may stand as an obstacle to Democrats’ environmental agenda in a narrowly divided House. A major backer of hydropower, she has called for free-market solutions to climate change.

Westerman, meanwhile, has supported moderate Republicans' efforts to address environmental concerns, including crafting a bill backing the Trump administration’s push to plant 1 trillion trees and supporting legislation in Congress to increase funding for national parks this year.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee endorsed Rep. David Scott of Georgia to become the next House Agriculture Committee chairman, Roll Call reports. Scott, who will be the first African American to lead the committee, has called for a greater focus on racial justice and economic equality in agriculture. The House Democratic Caucus is expected to back Scott following the endorsement.

The committee also endorsed Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, a 15-term Democrat from New Haven, Conn., for a powerful position chairing the House Appropriations Committee. If DeLauro gets the approval from the full caucus next week, she will find herself in a position that wields broad oversight over government spending, including federal investments in clean energy.

Extra mileage

This year's Capitol Hill Christmas tree is a 55-foot tall Engelmann spruce from Colorado.

The spruce was harvested in the Uncompahgre National Forest and was decorated with ornaments made by children in Colorado. The Christmas tree is the responsibility of a different national forest each year.