People who join the Clean Energy Corps will pursue projects aimed at accelerating the deployment of clean energy and cutting planet-warming emissions. For example, participants will jump-start an initiative to build thousands of miles of electric transmission lines to carry wind and solar power to communities nationwide.
The effort marks the latest sign that President Biden is harnessing the powers of the federal government to meet his ambitious climate goals, as Democrats' Build Back Better Act remains stalled in Congress.
“It’s truly a remarkable time to be at the Department of Energy as we set off to implement the historic $62 billion in clean energy investments from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "The launch of our Clean Energy Corps is the latest definitive step along our path to making transformational changes to America’s energy sector and ensuring a clean energy future for all. We’re calling on people of all backgrounds and career levels who understand the urgency of tackling climate change now, and are eager to join the team that is best positioned to do so.”
The corps will include current career staff as well as 1,000 new employees across more than a dozen offices, marking the largest expansion of the Energy Department's workforce since its establishment in 1977. To recruit people, the department is launching a hiring portal that allows applicants to indicate specific areas of interest, such as public policy, energy finance and legislative affairs.
“There are people in the C-suite that we need to attract to DOE, but there are also people in more junior legislative, policy and project management roles,” Tarak Shah, chief of staff at the Energy Department, told The Climate 202. “So we're looking for people who have just graduated all the way to people who have been in the energy business for a long time.”
The Energy Department is relying on a special hiring authority included in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation that Biden signed in November. The bipartisan bill provided $62 billion in funding for the department, some of which can be used to grow its workforce.
The bill also allocated $20 billion for clean energy demonstration projects in areas such as clean hydrogen, carbon capture, energy storage and small modular reactors. The department used that funding to establish an Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations in December.
Still, the Build Back Better Act, which contains a $320 billion package of tax credits for clean energy and electric vehicles, remains stalled in the Senate.
The Department of Homeland Security also announced today that it will create a new program to recruit experts focused on climate change. The two-year program "will be instrumental in helping the Department adapt to our changing climate by providing hands-on experience and guidance to young professionals interested in climate adaptation and resilience," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
Hiring challenges ahead
Ernest Moniz, who served as secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, told The Climate 202 that the Clean Energy Corps could swiftly mobilize to help meet Biden's goal of cutting carbon emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
“Frankly, we are rather behind the eight ball somewhat in terms of moving out strongly in this decade,” he said. “We have the administration's 50 to 52 percent reduction goal by 2030, and for that to happen, we're going to have to really move quickly to start putting these funds to work on effective ways for decarbonization.”
Moniz, who is now president and CEO of the nonprofit Energy Futures Initiative, noted that several offices across the Energy Department work on reducing emissions from transportation, the country's largest source of greenhouse gases. He said the Clean Energy Corps could bring together staff in different offices to collaborate on decarbonizing transportation and developing advanced fuels such as hydrogen.
Still, Moniz cautioned that recruiting and hiring 1,000 people will be no small task.
“We know from experience with the Recovery Act that it's a challenge to ramp up [hiring] dramatically,” he said, referring to the stimulus package that Obama signed in 2009, before Moniz's time as energy secretary from 2013 to 2017.
Dan Reicher, who was assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy under President Bill Clinton, agreed with that assessment. He noted that staffing levels at the Energy Department dropped under President Donald Trump, whose administration prioritized the production of fossil fuels.
“It's not easy to hire that number of people, and particularly folks who have some background in what this money is going to be spent on,” Reicher said. “So to the extent there's a challenging side of this, it's the hiring.”
The number of permanent employees at the Energy Department fell from 13,911 at the beginning of Obama's second term to 12,461 at the end of Trump's presidency, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management compiled by Andrew Ba Tran, an investigative data reporter at The Washington Post.
As of Sept. 21, there were 12,934 permanent staff members at the department, according to the data.
The power grid
Interior Department announces biggest offshore wind lease sale in U.S. history
"We're at an inflection point for domestic offshore wind energy development," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said on a call with reporters yesterday. "We must seize this moment."
Developers will be required to "make every reasonable effort" to use union labor to construct their turbines, according to the final sale notice, which identifies 25 eligible bidders in the Feb. 23 lease sale, including Avangrid, Equinor and BP.
In a White House fact sheet released yesterday, the Biden administration touted other initiatives to boost clean energy, including:
- The Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency will collaborate to “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of reviews of clean energy projects on public lands.”
- The Agriculture Department will create a pilot program to ensure that renewable energy reaches rural communities.
API president says Biden’s climate agenda risks foreign dependence
Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas lobbying organization, warned the Biden administration that cutting U.S. production to lower greenhouse gas emissions could make the country more reliant on foreign energy sources, the Houston Chronicle’s James Osborne reports.
"Take the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — it sounds like a good idea for European economies to depend on regional energy suppliers," Sommers said in his speech at API’s State of American Energy event. “The problem is that when certain foreign governments control your energy, they have the power to use it for their own purposes — not yours. We don’t want to learn that lesson the hard way."
On the Hill
Democrats unveil Russia sanctions bill amid Nord Stream 2 debate
Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled sanctions that would go into effect if Russia invades Ukraine. The effort, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), is meant as a counter to a bill backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that would sanction Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, The Post’s Seung Min Kim reports.
While the political debate over the pipeline has largely focused on geopolitical calculations related to Russia, climate activists have opposed the pipeline on environmental grounds, saying it could release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
White House departures trouble environmental justice advocates
Environmental justice advocates are alarmed following the recent, abrupt resignations of Cecilia Martinez, who spearheaded environmental justice efforts at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, and David Kieve, who worked on the council's outreach to environmental groups, Politico’s Zack Colman reports.
Three members of Biden’s White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council wrote to White House chief of staff Ron Klain on Monday to raise concerns about how the administration will fulfill its environmental justice goals. In their letter, obtained by Politico, the experts call for the installation of an environmental justice expert at the Climate Policy Office led by Gina McCarthy.
Investors urge the E.U. not to include gas in its green energy rulebook
A coalition of powerful investors has warned the European Union not to label natural gas as sustainable under the bloc’s new rulebook aimed at determining which investments are considered “climate friendly,” Kate Abnett and Simon Jessop of Reuters report. The move comes in response to a draft plan from the European Commission late last year that proposed classifying certain nuclear and natural gas investments as green.
The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose members include asset managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard, said that the inclusion of natural gas would “undermine the EU’s ambitions to set the international benchmark for credible, science-based standards for classifying sustainable economic activities.”
Buenos Aires hits 106 degrees amid severe South American heat wave
The temperature was the second-hottest ever recorded in the Argentine capital in 115 years and comes as a severe multiday heatwave grips parts of central South America, The Post’s Matthew Cappucci reports.
Excess strain on the power grid from the heat left 700,000 people in Buenos Aires without electricity. Heat waves are among the deadliest weather phenomena, and they are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
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