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McLean native among youths chosen to help guide federal environmental policies

McLean native Sophia Kianni will represent Virginia on the first-ever National Environmental Youth Advisory Council (via Environmental Protection Agency)

A 21-year-old from McLean will help give young Virginians a say in how the U.S. government addresses climate change and other environmental issues.

Sophia Kianni, who founded the nonprofit Climate Cardinals, is one of 16 people appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever youth advisory council, which will provide independent guidance and recommendations on policies related to greenhouse gas emissions, clean air and water, and more.

Announced last week in a press release and a Teen Vogue interview, the National Environmental Youth Advisory Council (NEYAC) consists of people aged 16 to 29 who will serve two-year terms. It will report directly to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who visited Flint Hill Elementary School in Vienna last year to highlight Fairfax County Public Schools’ new electric school buses.

“Young people have been at the forefront of every movement for political and social change in American history, and the environmental movement is no different,” Regan said in the press release. “Today we are cementing seats for young leaders at EPA’s table as we tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time.”

This isn’t the first time Kianni has gotten a prominent platform for her environmental advocacy. Currently studying at Stanford University, she previously served on a Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change to the United Nations secretary-general, and a TED Talk she gave in 2021 has drawn over 2 million views.

The talk centered on the same topic at the heart of Climate Cardinals: the need for climate research an educational resources to be available in different languages.

Inspired by a visit to Iran when she was in middle school, Kianni founded Climate Cardinals in 2020 — the same year she graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, according to a Northern Virginia Magazine profile. The nonprofit’s reach is now international, with 10,000 volunteers in over 80 countries who can translate 100 languages.

When the NEYAC appointments were announced on Nov. 16, Kianni got kudos on social media from Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Gerry Connolly.

“I am immensely proud to congratulate my constituent Sophia Kianni on her selection for the @EPA National Environmental Youth Advisory Council,” Connolly said in a tweet. “Sophia will serve our community and our nation as she provides advice and recommendations on climate concerns affecting America’s youth.”

In a graphic shared by Warner, Kianni said she was “excited to work alongside Administrator Regan and his incredible team to leverage intergenerational insights and innovation to work together for a more sustainable and equitable future.”

The EPA announced in June that it would establish a youth advisory council, inviting older teens and young adults from around the country to apply for the 16 spots. At least half the seats were reserved for people from communities considered disadvantaged due to flood and wildfire risks, pollution, housing and transportation barriers, and other obstacles.

According to the EPA, the inaugural members were chosen from 1,000 applicants “to represent a variety of interests, lived experiences, partisan affiliation, and geographic locations.” They come from 13 different states and have backgrounds in issues from climate change and conservation to food security and workforce development.

NEYAC will meet at least two times every year, starting in 2024.

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