DOE, including the EM site in Los Alamos, New Mexico, is playing a key role in an administration campaign to foster justice and benefit traditionally underserved communities, a top DOE official said at the 2021 National Cleanup Workshop.

“The problems of environmental injustice and the problems of energy injustice are pervasive in this country. This is why we are embarking on the most ambitious effort ever initiated to remedy these problems,” said Shalanda Baker, DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (OEID) secretarial advisor on equity and deputy director for energy justice.

“This is our moment,” Baker added. She was appointed the first ever deputy director for energy justice at DOE on Jan. 20.

Accumulated data has revealed systemic environmental and energy insecurities that have impacted mainly Black and Latino communities, Baker said.

According to DOE's Low-Income Energy Affordability Data Tool, the national average energy burden for low-income households is 8.6 percent, three times higher than for non-low-income households, which is estimated at 3 percent. The energy burden can be as high as 30% for low-income families in some locations. 

DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity Secretarial Advisor on Equity and Deputy Director for Energy Justice Shalanda Baker.
DOE Office of Economic Impact and Diversity Secretarial Advisor on Equity and Deputy Director for Energy Justice Shalanda Baker.

The White House took notice of inequality. On Jan. 27, President Biden established the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council through an executive order that establishes policies related to environmental justice.

“The president often said that he was committed to tackling the climate crisis and he was also committed to ensuring that we had economic growth and economic recovery that is equitable,” Baker said.

The Biden administration has established the Justice40 Initiative, with the goal for 40% of the overall benefits from specific federal investments to flow to traditionally underserved communities. The investments focus on clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and development of critical clean water infrastructure.

OEID is committed to implementing President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, Baker said. The DOE has over 70 programs that are covered programs within Justice40. A Justice40 Community of Practice meets bi-weekly with 50 to 60 people regularly attending.

“This initiative is unique because it’s about actual outcomes. It’s more than just engagement. We are talking about job creation and economic development in which every single dollar that is in clean energy and remediation has to go through the Justice40 lens,” Baker said in an interview following the panel session.

OEID has designed an Energy Justice Dashboard that’s updated monthly and broken down by program office, shedding light on what’s being spent and the contractors involved.

DOE is following interim guidance since July 2021. A White House-led scorecard is tentatively set for release in February to take a deeper dive into programmatic benefits and benchmarks. State and local municipalities can play a vital role in effectively addressing environmental justice, said Baker. A Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool beta is expected to be released in upcoming weeks.

“In order for this to be equitable, states themselves and localities themselves have to understand and engage in communities. That is my very strong recommendation at this stage — that we get the best data scientists there to look at the granular level, at household level, and block level in places,” she said.

There are 21 federal programs serving as pilot programs for the Justice40 Initiative. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Legacy Cleanup Project is one of five DOE pilot programs. The EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) works closely with cleanup contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos (N3B) to execute the Justice40 Initiative.

DOE has a decades-long history of engaging with Los Alamos County residents, including tribal jurisdictions, northern New Mexico counties, as well as predominantly Hispanic communities. EM-LA is committed to continuing to reinvest in communities that have been affected by decades of nuclear defense research at LANL.

Baker underscored the importance of engagement, workforce development, training and access to capital.

“We need to not only talk to communities but hire experts from communities to sit in state offices and city and county offices and actually advise state energy and local energy offices on the implementation process,” she said.

“We are committed to ensuring that forty-percent threshold,” she added. 

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