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Are you between the ages 13 and 29 and care about the planet? The EPA wants you on its youth council

yellow edited uncle sam
Image Credit: Library of Congress

The EPA is giving the youngins a seat at the table.

For the first time ever, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is assembling a National Environmental Youth Advisory Council (NEYAC), a group of young people, ages 13-29, to weigh in on environmental issues that affect their communities, whether it be the impacts of climate change or the footprint of pollution.

Announced last Thursday, the EPA says the NEYAC will provide advice and recommendations to the EPA’s Administrator Michael S. Regan on how to increase the EPA’s efforts to address those issues.

“We can’t tackle the environmental challenges of our time without input from our younger communities, who’ve long been at the forefront of social movements,” Regan said in a statement.

This committee will help ensure that the voices and perspectives of our youth are included and valued in EPA’s decision-making as we continue to advance President Biden’s commitment to ensuring everyone in this country has access to clean air, safe water, and healthy land, now and for generations to come.”

Applications are due by August 22 and the EPA has 16 youth vacancies to fill, and according to the Agency, as a part of the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which ensures that 40% of climate change and clean energy investments go toward disadvantaged communities, at least 50% of the NEYAC membership will come from, reside primarily in, and/or do most of their work in these communities.

While the initiative to ensure that half of the council is from or does work in communities most impacted by climate change and are overburdened by pollution, Verge’s Justine Calma points out that the citizenship requirement prevents youth from many immigrant communities from being included and drawing attention to the connections between climate vulnerability and immigration status.

Selected applicants who become members are appointed to NEYAC for a two-year term. The application encourages youth to show why they want to join by writing about their interest as well as through submitting a media project, whether it be a blog post (like the kind you see on Foot.Notes) video, podcast, song, or piece of art.

In order to apply, applicants must show how they are a part of the coalition to build a better, more climate-resilient future, displaying a “notable commitment to environmental issues,” whether it be leveraging their talents to raise awareness, being involved in environmental initiatives through school or their communities, or by taking the issue into their own hands like these two teenagers Foot.Notes profiled last year who are making tiny homes and green roofs to protect their communities from climate change.

The EPA’s initiative couldn’t come at a better time – as Regan put it, the youth have long been at the “forefront of social movements.”

This youth rigor is seen in the Montana youth climate lawsuit that just came to a close, in which 16 Montana youths have decided that their state lawmakers are not only failing to do enough to mitigate climate change but are actively exacerbating the problem through fossil-fuel-friendly policy.

While this lawsuit is the first of its kind to make it to court, it sits on the shoulders of several youth lawsuits before it like the infamous Juliana v. United States filed in 2015 and just last month received approval from a judge to finally move to trial.

The case, which like the Montana lawsuit, is represented by the non-profit youth law firm Our Children’s Trust, is a case of 21 young Americans who believe the United States could be doing much more to tackle climate change.

While the federal government has had changes in administration and made leaps of progress since the lawsuit was filed in 2015, the plaintiffs believe it still holds up as the nation continues to rely on fossil fuels.

Our Children’s Trust also cites continued opposition from the Department of Justice concerning the case, and thanks to continued pressure by the plaintiffs, the nonprofit, and their supporters, they will finally be heard in court.

masked person holds sign that says "there is no pride on a dead planet"
Image Credit: Mika Baumeister // Unsplash

“While our government continues to take actions that worsen and accelerate climate change, the youngest generations of Americans continue to endure record-breaking climate disasters at an increasing rate,” Zanagee Artis, a youth climate activist and Founder and Executive Director of Zero Hour, a youth-led climate movement, said of the case via Our Children’s Trust.

“Young people fear when the next devastating flood, wildfire, drought, heatwave, or other climate disaster will be. It’s long past time for the Department of Justice to end its opposition to the Juliana plaintiffs and youth climate justice. Young Americans have the right to be heard by our nation's courts, the branch of our government that has a duty to protect our constitutional right to a livable planet.”

While it’s not yet clear how much influence the NEYAC will have, perhaps with the EPA’s new council youth as passionate about the planet as those on the Montana and Juliana cases, will have a voice in environmental policy as well.

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