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 “energy 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. The Office is beta testing the Energy Justice Dashboard to track these investments in overburdened communities.

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.

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.

New Initiatives

Public Participation

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

  • June 9, 2023 DOE awards $26 million to universities, non-profits, and private-sector partners to create 13 information, engagement, and resource hubs for DOE’s”consent-based” siting of spent nuclear fuel. DOE’s consent-based siting for interim storage of nuclear material aims to center equity and environmental justice by working with potential host communities to determine if hosting Federal consolidated interim storage is consistent with their well-being and needs. Each project team will receive about $2 million and work with communities on planning and capacity building, site screening and assessment, and negotiation and implementation.
  • Nov. 10, 2022 DOE launches the Energy Efficiency Materials Program, a $50 million energy upgrade pilot program that will help nonprofits upgrade their buildings to decrease utility costs, create healthier community spaces, and reduce carbon emissions from commercial  buildings. Eligible nonprofits can receive grants of up to $200,000. DOE is currently seeking public comment on the pilot program via email only at [email protected], before Dec. 22, 2022.
  • Aug. 3, 2022: DOE seeks public input on the $750 million Advanced Energy and Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program for small-and-medium-sized manufacturers to produce clean energy products, recycle clean energy products, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions at facilities in coal communities. DOE seeks comments on how the program can facilitate community development in areas affected by coal mine and coal power plant closures. The deadline for public comments on the program is September 16, 2022. 
  • Jan. 2022: DOE publishes a report of responses to its request for information on inclusive innovation and just entrepreneurship in climate technology. DOE received 80 responses from 106 organizations. Suggestions included ways to make DOE’s funding more accessible and inclusive; how to increase community engagement and improve outreach efforts; and how to ensure successful performance for DOE-funded organizations.
  • Dec. 6, 2021: The same day as the first Tribal Nations Summit since 2016, the White House releases a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by 17 federal agencies, including DOE, committing to increase consultation and collaboration with Tribes in recognition of existing treaty and reserved rights. The MOU includes agency-specific commitmemts including to create a searchable treaty database, and integrate tribal treaty and reserved rights early into agency decision-making, in particular work to address the climate crisis. (See pp. 3-4 of the MOU for more).
  • July 7, 2021: 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, 2021: 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).

Personnel Updates

  • July 7, 2023 DOE announces several new appointees and staff promotions, including Rose Dady as the Director of Community Engagement for the Office of State and Community Energy Programs, and Matt Dannenberg as the Senior Tribal Liaison for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.
  • Apr. 5, 2023: DOE announces new Biden-Harris administration appointees and new roles, bringing Department appointees to historic diversity levels, with 57% people of color, 56% women, and 21% of staff identifying as LGBTQ+.
  • Nov. 3, 2022 DOE selects Agustín Carbó, a former EPA lawyer, to lead the agency’s effort to modernize Puerto Rico’s electric grid as it recovers from Hurricane Fiona in September 2022. Prior to this, Carbó chaired the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau and served as the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Authority.
  • June 8, 2022: The Senate votes to confirm Shalanda Baker to serve as Director of DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. Baker had been working as the Deputy Director for Energy Justice in that Office.
  • Jan. 13, 2022: DOE announces a hiring plan dubbed the Clean Energy Corps to add 1,000 new employees to the agency as part of its goal to spend approximately $62 billion from the infrastructure bill. DOE currently has a mandate to create or expand 72 programs. Interested applicants can apply through this portal.
  • Jan. 4, 2022: The White House resubmits its nomination for Shalanda Baker to lead DOE’s Office of Minority Economic Impact. She received bipartisan support from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has delayed her confirmation.
  • June 15, 2021: Tony Reames is appointed Senior Advisor in DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. Reames was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability where he established the Urban Energy Justice Lab, which centers social and economic inequality in its study of energy issues. He also launched the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which awards funding to groups bringing innovative climate and energy solutions to historically underserved communities.
  • May 4, 2021: 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, 2021: 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

  • Feb. 13, 2023 DOE and the Dept. of the Treasury publish initial guidance for the Low-Income Communities Bonus Credit Program, which allocates a 10-20% tax credit increase for solar and wind facilities in low-income or Tribal communities. The application process for this program will open in 2023 in two phases.
  • May 18, 2022: DOE adopts new manufactured home energy efficiency standards, reducing utility bills on average $177 per year in single-section homes and $475 per year in multi-section homes. The update requires all new manufactured homes built after May 2023 to meet size and climate-dependent energy conservation measures. DOE also expects the update to result in decreased carbon and methane emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 11.7 million homes. DOE also released a new website to help consumers find energy efficient manufactured homes and financing options, including government grants and loan programs.
  • July 21, 2021: 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.