On Thursday, February 25, 2021, the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity hosted a virtual conversation titled “An Agenda for Environmental, Climate and Energy Justice” in celebration of Black History Month. Leaders in clean energy and advocates for marginalized communities joined the Agency’s first Deputy Director for Energy Justice, Shalanda H. Baker, to enlighten attendees to the challenges faced by environmental justice communities.
Each speaker’s unique geographical and experiential perspectives proved invaluable to illustrate the many interconnected facets of environmental, climate, and energy justice. Colette Pichon Battle, Founder and Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, spoke about the many different tributaries of the energy justice movement, including environmental justice, environmental racism, and climate change. Hilton Kelley, Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient, detailed the severity of issues that residents in Port Arthur, TX face due to the energy industry’s disregard for communities of color. Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, brought attention to the legacy of toxins and pollutants that have always targeted communities of color. Ms. Patterson also spoke to the importance of including history as the context to challenges that environmental justice communities face. Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, relayed what she learned from working on the Dirty Diesel Campaign that lasted 18 years. Her advice was to prepare for that political movement by working with communities to identify problems and engage residents in political decision making.
The conversation concluded with Ms. Baker asking for advice as she dives into leading the mission of advancing the Justice40 Initiative across the Department, which commits 40% of the benefits of certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities. The panelists leaned into their decades of experience on the frontlines of environmental hazards and climate change. In their parting advice to Ms. Baker, they shared that the way forward cannot be with the current systematic approach. Decision making needs to involve communities, especially those immediately impacted by energy and environmental challenges.
This inevitable connection between the energy justice initiative and civil rights exists and its time to harness the power of these movements. In Ms. Baker’s words, this is a time of unprecedented and historic change, it “feels transformative… it feels like a do or die moment, and I’m up for it.” Are you?
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