Environmental Justice at the Department of Energy

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President Biden has committed to transitioning the U.S. economy to 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035. The Department of Energy (DOE) will play a crucial role in determining how the benefits and burdens of that transition are distributed. Currently, communities of color and low-income households bear a disproportionate energy burden, meaning they spend a much higher percentage of their income on energy costs. Meanwhile, rural communities and tribal nations are often more dependent on fossil fuel infrastructure, and less able to access and benefit from renewable energy.

The notion of “enregy justice,” popularized by the Initiative for Energy Justice, includes remediating disparate social, economic, and health burdens of the energy system, while also ensuring equitable social and economic participation in that system. President Biden nominated the Initiative’s co-founder, Shalanda Baker, as director of DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, which will oversee the agency’s efforts to implement the administration’s Justice40 Initiative.

In addition to Justice40 and related funding decisions, DOE can help promote energy justice through discretionary policy and rulemaking. For example, DOE has the authority to set stricter energy efficiency standards for buildings and consumer products, which in turn can help decrease households’ energy burden if implemented in an equitable way. These and other efforts are detailed below.

For more updates on the electricity sector, see EELP’s Electricity Law Initiative.

Public Participation

For tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.

  • July 7: DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announces plans to issue new energy efficiency standards for manufactured housing, starting with a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNOPR) by Aug. 16. DOE submitted a proposed rule to OIRA on May 18, where it remains under review. To schedule a 12866 meeting with OIRA, use RIN No. 1904-AC11. According to UtilityDive, manufactured homes use 70% more energy per square foot than traditional homes, and are generally occupied by low-income households. DOE published a related notice that it plans to assess the air quality impacts of setting these standards more tightly, with comments due by Aug. 6
  • June 10: DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Enregy (EERE) and Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) issue a Request for Information (RFI) on “enabling an inclusive and just entrepreneurial ecosystem” in climate and energy tech, including assessing barriers to DOE funding (DE-FOA-0002540). Email comments as an attachment to [email protected] by 5:00pm (ET) on Aug. 6.

Personnel

  • May 4: DOE announces $10 million for a new SolSmart administrator over the next five years to encourage “more equtiable solar deployment.” SolSmart is funded by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
  • April 22: President Biden nominates Asmeret Asefaw Berhe to lead DOE’s Office of Science. The White House also officially announces the nomination of Shalanda Baker as director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, in addition to her role as DOE’s first-ever deputy director for energy justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. Baker is co-founder and co-director of the Initiative for Energy Justice.

Rulemaking and Energy Determinations

  • July 21: DOE announces new building energy code determinations for commercial and multi-family high-rise residential buildings, finding the new standard will result in 4.3% cost savings in addition to energy use and carbon emission reductions. This publication triggers requirements that states update their codes to meet or exceed the updated standard.

Funding Opportunities

This is not a comprehensive list. For more information on DOE funding opportunities, visit DOE’s Grant Opportunities page or Grants.gov. DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity is also beta testing a new Energy Justice Dashboard to track the agency’s investments in overburdened communities.

  • July 13: DOE announces $12 million for 13 American Indian and Alaska Native communities to improve building energy efficiency and install microgrids for essential services. The awardees and funded projects are listed here.
  • June 23: DOE’s 2022 budget includes funds to create urban integrated field laboratories (IFLs) to gather climate data in cities in collaboration with universities serving urban minority populations, including HBCUs. DOE plans to call for proposals and select sites in 2022.
  • April 23: DOE announces $109.5 million to support job creation in communities impacted by the clean energy transition. This includes $75 million for carbon capture projects, $19.5 million for mineral extraction from coal and other waste streams, and $15 million for geothermal research at West Virginia University and Sandia Labs.

New Initiatives

  • July 15: DOE launches its Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+) tool to assist local governments in expediting the reivew and approval of residential solar installation permits. Local governments can sign up for SolarAPP+ here.