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.

Public Participation

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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 25, 2022: DOE announces 146 agency programs that are covered under the Justice40 Initiative, which seeks to deliver 40% of overall program “benefits” to “disadvantaged” communities. Those programs include the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program, and Weatherization Assistance Program. The agency also releases a guidance document for implementing Justice40 at DOE.
  • July 8, 2022: DOE grants 5 state agencies and 21 organizations over $40 million to help community members reduce utility costs by weatherwizing, repairing, and electrifying homes. The awards support the Justice40 Initiative, which aims to deliver 40% of the benefits from climate and clean energy initiatives to “disadvantaged communities.” The funds come from the Weatherization Assistance Program, which received $3.2 billion in additional funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 
  • July 6, 2022: DOE invites states, Tribal nations, and territories to apply for awards from the $2.3 billion Grid Hardening State/Tribal Formula Grant Program. The program provides funds over five years for communities to strengthen and modernize their electrical grids against wildfires, extreme weather, and other climate-related disasters. Applications are due Sep. 30, 2022. For more information and to apply, click here.
  • May 19, 2022: DOE launches a $3.5 billion program to develop four regional direct air capture (DAC) hubs to trap and store carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere. The program was created under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. At least two of the projects will be in communities with a history of fossil fuel production. The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) has explicitly said that carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects will not benefit communities and should not be prioritized.
  • March 15, 2022: DOE selects 14 communities to participate in the Energy Storage for Social Equity (ES4SE) Initiative. Recipients will receive technical support to assess their energy challenges, potential solutions, and find partners to meet the community’s energy goals. In the next phase, up to five of these communities will begin installing and commissioning energy storage projects.
  • Jan. 28, 2022:  DOE says it plans to issue funding guidance to state energy offices and in competitive grant guidelines to encourage its $62 billion infrastructure budget to benefit low-income and minority communities. According to DOE’s Energy Justice Dashboard, less than 6% (about $2.2 billion) of agency funding for FY 2021 was spent consistent with Justice40 priorities. That funding included nuclear waste cleanup, cooperative agreements for carbon capture and storage research, and grants to states for energy efficiency projects in these qualifying investments. DOE says it will target grid updates in minority communities, including investments in community solar.
  • Nov. 3, 2021: DOE launches the Energy Storage for Social Equity Initiative (ES4SE), which will distribute $9 million among up to 15 “underserved and frontline communities to leverage energy storage as a means of increasing resilience and maximizing energy flexibility.” Full applications are due December 3, 2021.
  • Oct. 25, 2021: DOE begins accepting applications for its LEAP pilot program that will provide over $16 million in technical assistance services to 24-36 low-income, energy-burdened communities in the early stages of clean energy-related economic development. Individuals must first register online to apply. This document provides helpful information, including eligibility requirements (pp. 9-10) and application requirements (pp. 12-14). The application deadline is Dec. 17, 2021.
  • Sep. 30, 2021: DOE’s launches a new Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which will divide $2.5 million among up to ten groups and organizations that support “entrepreneurship and innovation” in communities historically underserved in climate and energy technology funding. The funding will be distributed in two phases: in Phase One, up to 10 winners will receive an initial prize of $200,000 each, along with mentorship and technical assistance. Winners may then participate in Phase Two, where up to three teams will share $500,000. Applications for Phase One must be received by Feb. 25, 2022. Click here for more information about the Prize and how to apply.
  • July 13, 2021: 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, 2021: 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, 2021: 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