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 disadvantaged communities. DOE’s Energy Justice Mapping Tool – Disadvantaged Communities Reporter also allows users to explore and produce reports on those 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

  • Feb. 14, 2024 DOE published its second Annual Equity Action Plan, pursuant to Executive Order 14091. The plan includes five new priority strategies: (1) establishing an agency-wide Community Benefits Plan framework; (2) updating the Merit Review program to “facilitate equitable outcomes”; (3) increasing access to procurement opportunities for new entrants and disadvantaged businesses; (4) integrating justice considerations into research and development (R&D) programs; and (5) developing an agency-wide framework to work with Tribal and disadvantaged communities.
  • Oct. 28, 2023 DOE announced $3.5 billion in investments in 58 electric grid projects across 44 states. The projects aim to strengthen electrical grid resilience and reliability, with the goal of bringing more than 35 GW of new renewable energy online and investing in 400 microgrids. Projects funded through this investment include efforts to strengthen the resilience of disadvantaged communities to extreme weather and to extend new transmission lines to remote areas that have faced historical underinvestment. This $3.5 billion is the first round of selections under the broader $10.5b Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships Program.
  • Oct. 13, 2023 DOE announced $7 billion to launch seven Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs, expected to collectively produce 3 million metric tons of hydrogen annually. This program is covered under the Justice40 Initiative, meaning at least 40 percent of funding will support “disadvantaged” communities, including coal and tribal communities.
  • Sep. 27, 2023 DOE, Treasury, and the IRS announce that applications for the IRA’s Low-Income Communities Bonus Credit Program under Section 48(e) of the Internal Revenue Code will open at 9am ET on Oct. 19, 2023. The program provides a 10 or 20-percentage point tax credit increase to the investment tax credit for qualified wind and solar energy facilities located in low-income communities, on Indian Land, or in qualified low-income residential building projects or economic benefit projects. Read more about the announcement here.

Public Participation

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

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.