Clean energy represents an advancement in how the United States meets its energy needs and tackles the current and future climate crises. As part of that transition, the Department of Energy (DOE) is working to ensure it doesn’t leave behind the communities often disadvantaged by energy production and to help them receive the economic benefits of the federal investment in clean energy.
Energy justice is an evolving field centered around participation in the energy system’s social and economic sectors. It includes looking for ways to remediate the harm done to communities that have historically borne the burden of energy production. After 43 years of the DOE’s existence, it now asks how its national laboratories can address the actions of the past and improve the impacted communities going forward.
Justice Week, beginning Oct. 30, will highlight the progress made by the Department of Energy to embed equity, justice, and a community-centered approach in the U.S.’s transition to clean energy. Each day of Justice Week has a different theme.
- Oct. 30 – Equity
- Oct. 31 – Justice40
- Nov. 1 – Community and Justice 40
- Nov. 2 – Minority-Serving Institutions and Minority Business Enterprise
- Nov. 3 – Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
Elements recently talked with the Lab’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Lady Idos, about why Justice Week is important and how to incorporate these themes in developing more substantial funding proposals.
What is Justice Week?
Lady Idos: Justice Week is five days of events examining how we embed equity, justice, and the community into the clean energy transition. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act invested over $97 billion to help transition to clean energy, and we want to ensure that front-line communities are included. Overburdened, disadvantaged, and underserved communities should also benefit from these investments since they have historically been most affected by legacy pollution.
How have these communities been impacted?
Idos: The concept of energy justice is important because the outputs of our energy system disproportionately impact specific communities. For example, communities near power plants and energy infrastructure are subject to toxic pollutants that increase asthma, cancer, and heart disease rates. In “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, the town of Reserve has a cancer risk 50 times higher than the national average. When we look at energy burden, low-income households spend three times more of their income on energy costs than non-low income households’ median spending. Energy insecurity and high energy costs affect nearly one in three households and correlate with socio-demographic characteristics. It’s important to understand this data when we translate federal investments into actual benefits for communities most impacted.
This is a big topic. How will it be broken down?
Idos: The overall focus of the week is addressing the climate crisis, energy and environmental justice, and equity. Day one looks at the Equity Action Plan. How are we removing barriers for underrepresented communities? For the Lab, that means thinking about the entire ecosystem of who we do business with. Who do we partner with in general, and who are our suppliers? Are we considering businesses owned by people of color, veterans, women, and those with disabilities? We should consider how we spend taxpayer dollars and open opportunities for all.
Day 2 focuses on Justice40, which requires that at least 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments should flow to disadvantaged communities. DOE will describe how they define disadvantaged communities and what they mean by benefits. Many of our scientists at the Lab have been submitting funding proposals requiring Community Benefit Plans (CBP). Since CBPs are up to 20 percent of the technical score, PIs must demonstrate their understanding and approach to this topic, including answering such questions as: How are you working with the community in your proposal? Are you demonstrating community benefits or job creation? The DOE is asking scientists to take a broader societal view when submitting funding proposals, similar to the National Science Foundation’s questions of broader impacts.
Are there resources the Lab offers to help with this part of a proposal?
Idos: Some of the Lab’s areas and divisions are developing best practices to include diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in their proposals. We need to partner with our scientists on how they can engage with community stakeholders since past proposals didn’t necessarily focus on societal impact or social sciences. We need to create learning opportunities, like organizing and running a stakeholder engagement meeting and deciding who should be invited to the table.
The Funding Opportunity Announcement handbook is an excellent place to start.
And that leads to Day 3.
What is Day 3 about?
Idos: It is all about communities and Justice40. How do we mitigate the social, economic, and health impacts caused by energy production in these neighborhoods? Day 3 will highlight the perspectives of energy justice stakeholders so we can hear firsthand how to build partnerships and support community-led energy projects. We can move fast on clean energy and still take the time to bring the community with us.
Why are Minority-Serving Institutions and Minority-Owned Businesses called out on Day 4?
Idos: The Minority-Serving Institutions, or MSIs, are part of our talent pipeline. We have our K-12 programs for the local community, and those programs feed into our workforce development programs. But how do we connect our programs with the MSIs? How do we prepare our local students from the start of their educational journey to graduating from these MSIs and returning to the East Bay to work at the Lab? Are these MSIs graduating students who can become clean energy entrepreneurs and serve as collaborators? Can we work on tech transfer together? At the Lab, our Intellectual Property Office’s innovation cycle moves technologies from the Lab to market, and it’s important also to consider diverse inventors and entrepreneurs when we think about minority-owned businesses.
Day 5 on the DOE webpage says it is open to DOE employees only. Can Lab employees listen in to sessions?
Idos: Absolutely. The Day 5 sessions focus on how diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are part of the DOE’s workforce strategy now and in the future. This is the area I worked on for the past two years while on assignment to the DOE. This day provides the roadmap to the whole-of-government approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, which includes employee resource groups and embedding DEIA within DOE’s talent strategy and mission.
Do people need to register for these sessions?
Idos: Yes, registration is required. I know the sessions are early for West Coasters since each day starts at 7 a.m. PT. Once registered, you can see the agenda for each day and then pop into sessions as your schedule allows. The first session of the day is generally an overview, and then there are specific topics for the rest of the day. The partnerships highlighted during the week are how DOE wants its national labs to think about projects, research, and communities. If you are writing a proposal or thinking about writing a proposal, the information provided during Justice Week can be invaluable. You will also hear from the DOE Secretary and other leaders on the DOE’s priorities regarding the climate crisis and equity.