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Sunrise Movement Climate Activists Call On Biden To 'Keep His Promises'05:00
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Joe Biden speaks about climate change and the wildfires on the West Coast. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Joe Biden speaks about climate change and the wildfires on the West Coast. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Climate activists have set a high bar for the President-elect Joe Biden: They've asked that the new administration not hire anyone with ties to the oil and gas industries.

But Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, says she’s already disappointed. Biden named Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana as a senior adviser. Richmond, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, has received campaign funds from fossil fuel companies.

“[Richmond] has taken hundreds of thousands from oil and gas in his career,” Prakash says. “But at the same time, I think it points to a larger conversation about the role of the fossil fuel industry and the money from oil and gas donors that has really corrupted and halted any progress on climate action for the last 40 years.”

During the Democratic primaries, the Sunrise Movement rated Biden’s climate plan an “F.” The youth-led environmental group supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary but has since given Biden climate recommendations as part of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force.

Biden says he'll take steps to make the electric sector net-zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. He wants to stop drilling on federal lands and says he'll rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on day one. His campaign described this climate plan as the most ambitious of any presidential nominee to date.

Prakash says she feels excited about the improved climate plan, which also includes a $2 trillion investment toward a renewable energy economy with 40% of the funds benefitting disadvantaged communities. Biden needs to start enacting this agenda on day one in office, she says.

The Sunrise Movement is working with members of Biden’s team but also plans to put external pressure on the administration, she says.

“We have a very active grassroots movement of tens of thousands of young people who are terrified for their future,” she says, “and who are ready to ensure that Joe Biden makes good on his Build Back Better plan that they voted for.”

The group’s website makes the case for executive actions that don’t require a sign off from the Senate. It reads, “Joe Biden has a choice to make. Does he want to be the leader of the American majority or does he want to be Mitch McConnell's vice president?”

Biden can start a climate mobilization office that reports directly to the president, based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Office of War Mobilization created in 1943, she says. He could also set standards of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for buildings by 2030.

On day one, Biden could start implementing Obama-era standards for clean power for vehicles. And he could set standards around cars that phase out combustion engines by 2040 and use the Clean Air Act to work toward his clean power by 2035 goal, she says.

“I think what we need to understand is what it requires is political will and a hell of a lot of creativity to make it so,” she says.

If the president-elect doesn’t make good on his climate promises, Prakash says the Sunrise Movement will stage sit-ins, support primaries of Democratic incumbents and take to the streets.

“This moment not only calls upon us to call our politicians to action, but for all of us to recognize the agency that we have right where we live to push forward on this issue,” she says.


Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on November 20, 2020.

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