Youth-run green groups move to pressure U.S. Congress over climate

WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Youth-run environmental groups are gearing up to pressure Democratic U.S. Congress members to retool their $3.5 trillion spending package to fund more programs battling climate change.

In 2020, Democratic candidates courted young members of the groups, including Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour. Many of the members are now smarting because they believe President Joe Biden gave up too much of the climate change fight in his deal with Republicans on infrastructure.

“Progressives need to hold the line against moderate compromises that won’t do enough to stop climate change,” said Zanagee Artis, co-founder of Zero Hour, one of several youth-led climate groups that assembled armies of young canvassers to support electing Democrats.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill here, which would make the biggest investment in decades in roads, bridges and airports overwhelmingly passed the closely divided Senate and heads next to the House of Representatives. But to secure bipartisan support, Democrats left out steps to phase out fossil fuel use from the electric grid and funding for millions of jobs to retrofit buildings and adapt to a changing climate.

Climate activists were further disheartened after the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on Monday here that warned global warming is close to getting out of control.

The plan for $3.5 trillion in new spending includes both the efforts on the grid and climate-adaptation jobs. But some Democrats have objected to the size of the new bill and growing U.S. deficits. If this further disheartens youthful green activists, it could be fatal for Democrats trying to hold on to tenuous majorities in the House and Senate in 2022.

NextGen, a progressive group that registers and encourages young people to vote, is having members contact senators to lobby for the climate legislation, said the group’s president, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat representing the conservative-leaning state of West Virginia who enjoys a virtual veto over the Democratic agenda, has expressed reservations about the Senate budget deal here that would carry out Biden's priorities including the climate fight program.

Manchin is one of several main targets for the Sunrise Movement, which plans to inundate key lawmakers with phone calls, organize protests in their districts and work against the re-election of those who oppose expanding climate provisions in the law.

Other targets of the activists’ efforts are Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio progressive close to Biden, and Representative Richard Neal, who runs the important spending committee Ways and Means.

“Three point five trillion dollars is not enough to stop the climate crisis,” said Ellen Sciales, press secretary of Sunrise Movement.

“If Biden wants to be a world leader on climate, he’ll heed this call and pass the boldest reconciliation bill possible.” (Reporting by Merdie Nzanga; Editing by Trevor Hunnicutt and David Gregorio)