DOE starts Justice Week with Equity Portfolio Day

Nov. 7, 2023
Panelists discussed Community Benefits Plans, weatherization funds, civil rights compliance, and more.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Justice Week kicked off with Equity Portfolio Day on Monday, Oct. 30, with an in-person component at DOE headquarters in Washington as well as a virtual program. Justice Week presents an opportunity for DOE to address advances in clean energy programs, ensuring that investments toward combating climate change, meeting environmental objectives, and securing a stable energy future are utilized by historically underserved areas.

Equity Portfolio Day focused on the efforts to support and execute Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” issued by the Biden-Harris administration in January 2021, and the follow-up Executive Order 14091, signed in February 2023. 

Shalanda Baker, director of the DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED), opened the day’s events and welcomed David Turk, United States Deputy Secretary of Energy, to the stage. 

Baker noted that the ED office “was formed in 1978 with the explicit mission of serving black and brown communities, with environmental justice and equity at the core of the office and the statute that set it up.” She then asked Turk, “What is the significance of having an office like ED in this building?”

“I think it’s incredibly important to have organizing language that really highlights our ideals and what we’re shooting for,” Turk said. “Even if we’re not successful any given day, even if the historical baggage is huge here. It’s […] one of the reasons our country has been successful: We have a Declaration of Independence and we have high ideals; even if we’ve not lived up to those ideals from day one, day 30, or day 6,400, we have those ideals, and we should always keep striving; [that’s]  the importance of the 1978 originating document.”

Turk continued, “What I see, though, is that it’s one thing to have something in writing, and it’s another thing to execute on that and actually implement. And one thing I’m particularly excited about is that this is something that is truly being owned by, organized by, and inspired by colleagues throughout the Department of Energy. I think there are two reasons for that: one is, it’s the right thing to do, which should be enough, but I think what we’re also seeing is colleagues who are so eager to make progress on the clean energy transition, so eager to make progress on climate change, find that there’s no way to do that unless we have justice for all throughout this transition; and so it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s absolutely necessary in order for us to solve our other objectives that we’re trying to get done as well.”

Turk also added that he was excited about a community benefits program tool that requires those seeking federal tax funding to do a Community Benefits Plan (CBP) with real engagement in the community. 

Baker then got to the core of the climate issue — the well-being of future generations — and asked about Turk's children, saying, "They're going to be entering a world you and I didn't have to contend with when coming up, and everyone in this building is working to make sure they have a better future and that climate change is something we’re able to manage and mitigate. What is your highest hope for how we can make this possible for them?”

Turk responded, "We have to be intentional about what we're doing; we have to be strategic; we have to be targeted; we have to be intentional.”

Following the opening discussion, Sonrisa Lucero, ED’s special advisor for stakeholder engagement, led the panel “Introduction to Community Benefits Plan – In Theory and in Practice,” a discussion on how CBPs help guide the department in working to ensure an equitable energy system.

Joining Lucero on the panel were Nina Peluso, senior advisor of policy and program management at the DOE’s Grid Deployment Office; Annabelle Swift, ORISE fellow with the DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs; Jade Garrett, founder and owner of Positive Deviancy; and Tinice Williams, executive director of Feed the Second Line. 

The session featured an overview of the CBPs, explaining how the DOE is using the plans to address workforce and equity goals in funding opportunities, including:

  1. Meeting or exceeding the objectives of Justice40 — an initiative that seeks to ensure 40% of benefits flow to disadvantaged communities.
  2. Ensuring equitable access to wealth-building opportunities.
  3. Creating and retaining high-quality jobs while also attracting, training, and retaining skilled workers.
  4. Facilitating meaningful engagement with community and labor partners, leading to formal agreements.

The next panel, “Community Benefits Plans from the CEO Perspective,” featured Sandhya Ganapathy, director and CEO of EDP Renewables North America LLC; Pedro Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International; and Lindsay Gorrill, founder and CEO of KORE Power. The panel discussed some of the justice and equity challenges that private companies face in areas such as renewable energy and battery manufacturing.

The following panel, moderated by Chelsea Mervenne, project officer with the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), was “Advancing Equity in Weatherization through Interagency Coordination” and featured Erica Burrin, senior advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services; Everett Brubaker, business development specialist, Community Housing Partners; Aimee Smith, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development; and Kathryn Rulli, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. 

The panel discussed the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which serves to increase energy efficiency in low-income houses, making homes safer and healthier while saving the occupants money on energy bills. WAP is part of the DOE’s 2022 Equity Action Plan, with three main priorities :

Weatherization Readiness Funds: This priority is to reduce the number of deferrals, which in the weatherization program refers to homes that qualify for the assistance but because of structural or safety issues (roof damage, the presence of asbestos, etc.) cannot be weatherized. To reduce deferrals, the DOE allows for weatherization grantees to use readiness funds to address the issues that prevent the house from being weatherized.

Enhancement & Innovation Grants: This priority has five purposes:

  • Increase the number of weatherization-ready households.
  • Promote and enable the deployment of renewable energy in low-income households.
  • Improve health and safety within homes.
  • Disseminate best practices to the larger weatherization network.
  • Workforce development.

Maximizing the leveraging and braiding of DOE funds: This priority is focused on the efficient and effective deployment of assistance.

The next panel, “Advancing Equity in DOE Procurement Opportunities,” was led by Janella Davis, deputy director of the DOE’s Office of Headquarter Procurement Services, and featured McKenzy Hunter, division manager at the DOE’s Office of Headquarters Procurement Services; Cheryl Copeland, team lead at the DOE’s Procurement Operations; April Brooks, contracting officer at the Office of Headquarters Procurement Services; and Mark Wolfe, contracting officer and financial assistance specialist at the Office of Headquarters Procurement Services.

The panel discussion revolved around the DOE’s commitment to advancing equity. It covered the Office of Headquarter Procurement Services’ efforts in small business contracting, DOE small business solutions, federal acquisition regulation, small business programs and outreach, and the AbilityOne Program — an independent federal agency that provides employment opportunities to people who are blind or have significant disabilities.

The final panel of the day was conducted by Jody TallBear, chief of the Civil Rights Division of the DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, and Steve Nabors, a civil rights attorney with the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity. The pair spoke on civil rights compliance in DOE conducted and funded activities and covered the priorities of the ED office for the coming years, with two specific civil rights goals for the office to reach by the end of September 2025:

  1. To have a comprehensive civil rights strategic enforcement plan in place to embed civil rights in the awards and execution of federally funded programs.
  2. To relaunch the department’s Limited English Proficiency (LEP) program, with 90% of the department having an LEP plan in place. 

Bari R. Brooks, senior advisor at the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, reintroduced Shalanda Baker, who closed the day’s events by thanking all those involved and inviting attendees to the next day’s programs, which focused on Justice40 and related issues.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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