The word justice can both softly roll into the air and echo with thunderous force across a nation. It has a unique power that carries history just as easily as it can carry people towards hope, togetherness, and action. It is a power so large and momentous, one wonders why it hasn’t been deployed with more force as a solution to the greatest threat we face - the climate crisis.
Historically, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity had three main offices – the Office of Minority Programs, Office of Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This year, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity established an Office of Energy Justice Policy and Analysis, which focuses on creating a policy framework to permanently reduce energy burden and increase access to low-cost clean energy capital in disadvantaged households.
The Office of Economic Impact and Diversity is leading the critical shift to approaching the climate crisis through equity-centered solutions that give everyone—particularly those on the frontlines of climate change—the resources they need to thrive.
Energy Justice and Justice40
When you think of DOE, what are your immediate thoughts? Perhaps technological advancements in energy efficiency and offshore wind power, or carbon capture and nuclear energy. While accurate, these technological advancements would only be a partial view of DOE’s work. We cannot talk about saving the Earth without talking about its people, especially those who have borne the brunt of the climate crisis, such as low-income communities and communities of color. We cannot advance technical solutions to the climate crisis without centering disadvantaged communities in the narrative and talking about equity and justice.
At DOE, we define energy justice as “the goal of achieving equity in both the social and economic participation in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on those disproportionately harmed by the energy system” (Initiative for Energy Justice, 2019). At its core, energy justice applies the basic principles of civil rights to the climate space.
Without intention and accountability, energy justice will remain a theoretical idea. President Biden’s historic Justice40 Initiative requires that 40% of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments—including investments in clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and the development of clean water infrastructure— flow to disadvantaged communities (Executive Order 14008). The Office of Economic Impact and Diversity is best positioned to lead this initiative across the Department.
Since the first day of the administration, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity has focused on building DOE’s capacity on equity and Justice40, partnering with program offices and developing working groups to advance equity across the agency. We developed a set of priority policy proposals to reduce energy costs and increase access to clean energy. Then, we defined our goals to establish a baseline and begin tracking progress on Justice40 and built a team of the top energy-equity researchers, scientists, and advocates across the country to innovate solutions for the Justice40 portfolio. We created a platform for sustained stakeholder engagement with environmental justice and community leaders, and BIPOC stakeholder groups to ensure that inclusion is top of mind when developing solutions for those most impacted by the climate crisis. To learn more about how the Department’s funding and investments are distributed to overburdened and underserved communities, please visit the Energy Justice Dashboard (BETA).
While there are still more conversations to be held and more voices to incorporate, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity has made great strides this year to center equity at DOE. With Equity spanning beyond energy justice, our office is implementing five equity Executive Orders covering equity within energy justice; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA); gender equity; and voting rights. These efforts connect to the office’s ongoing work with BIPOC stakeholders.
This year, the Office of Minority Programs hosted Small Business Innovation Research technical assistance webinars to amplify DOE opportunities for BIPOC businesses. We also participated in the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Opportunity, and Excellence through Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ Interagency Working Group to expand opportunities in research, internships, and contracting. Our office also hosted the Minority Educational Institutions Partnership Program to provide students from Minority Serving Institutions paid, hands-on work experience. Finally, our Office of Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity coordinated raced-based discrimination, Title VI, and gender-based discrimination, Title IX, compliance reviews for DOE Federal assistance programs.
As a result of our office’s cross-agency efforts to implement Presidential orders concerning equity, the Department now has a preliminary plan to address and reduce barriers to equitable access of DOE resources, as well as a DEIA self-assessment and a set of gender-equity recommendations to strengthen recruitment, hiring, development, promotion, and retention of our Nation's talent. And, because every agency has the duty to promote access to voting, ED launched the “Energized to Vote Campaign” focusing on education and awareness of voting rights.
Looking ahead to 2022, our office will continue to spearhead the implementation of Justice40, increase stakeholder feedback from the communities J40 aims to assist, amplify energy justice research, develop equity and DEIA and gender-equity action plans on hiring and employee retention, ensure compliance with Title VI and IX regarding race and gender-based discrimination, and increase technical assistance to Minority Serving Institutions.
Most of all, we will continue to advance the civil rights of communities that have been purposefully disadvantaged by centuries of government-sanctioned policies. Just as these policies were created intentionally, our efforts to undo their harm must also be intentional.
For more information about DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, visit energy.gov/diversity.