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Jennifer Granholm and the Energy Department Can Usher in a Just Transition to Clean Energy. Here’s How.

Climate Justice Climate Energy Environmental Justice

Update: On February 25, 2021, the Senate confirmed Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy.

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to name Jennifer Granholm to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees key energy efficiency standards, research, and development. Granholm is a former two-term governor of Michigan and a champion of using a clean energy transition to spur economic growth.

During the Trump years, the department repeatedly tried to defund important clean energy research programs. The department also weakened energy efficiency standards for appliances, light bulbs, and other consumer products. These actions damaged our country’s ability to reduce carbon pollution, combat climate change, and help those most burdened by high energy bills.

The Biden administration and Granholm must make energy justice a focus of their policy agenda. Here are five top priorities they can start on right away:

  1. Roll out an energy efficiency program for low-wealth households. The Biden administration should ensure that energy production and transmission do not continue to harm historically disenfranchised communities, and the department should help low-wealth families transition to clean energy.

    To start, Granholm should bring clean rooftop solar energy and energy efficiency technologies to low-wealth households in rural areas, tribal lands, and urban centers like Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Such a program would:
    1. Lower high energy bills for those who struggle to make ends meet.

    2. Reduce our country’s carbon footprint without having to build massive power transmission lines, which often disproportionately impact low-wealth people and communities of color.

    3. Deliver better health outcomes for communities disproportionately affected by environmental and energy injustice. Weatherization, modern air conditioners, home renovations, and other energy efficiency programs and technologies improve health by protecting people from indoor temperature extremes and exposure to pollution, mold, and other allergens.

  2. Incentivize clean energy job training programs in disenfranchised communities. Localized, community-based approaches to renewable energy generation create more high-quality jobs than centralized power generation does. The Energy Department should work with the Department of Labor to create energy-related job training programs that include certifications in installing energy efficiency technologies. Tailoring these programs to low-wealth communities and communities of color would deliver a measure of economic justice to residents.

  3. Restore strong efficiency standards and develop those that are behind schedule. The Trump administration spent four years weakening some energy efficiency standards and slow-walking others. Granholm should pick this “low-hanging fruit” early on. She can reduce climate change pollution by restoring gutted standards and immediately acting on delayed ones.

  4. Restore energy efficiency research. We need more than standards alone to increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon pollution, and protect those most affected by the climate crisis. Granholm also must prioritize energy efficiency research to help government and industry implement cutting-edge strategies and technologies. Doing so would reduce energy use and lower demand for polluting fossil fuels.

  5. Prioritize electric cars and charging infrastructure. Transportation is the largest climate culprit in the United States, and cars emit other damaging pollutants that cause thousands of illnesses and deaths every year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should reverse Trump rollbacks that removed California’s ability to regulate carbon pollution from cars and light trucks and weakened vehicle efficiency standards. Restoring Obama-era standards would hasten the transition to electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Energy Department should complement these efforts by enhancing plans for expanded charging infrastructure along highways and at homes and businesses. It should also consider electric car rebates. Tax credits are not immediate, and many vehicle retailers aren’t aware of them, leading them to sell electric cars short when talking with their customers.

These recommendations only scratch the surface of actions that the department — and the whole of the federal government — can take to advance smart energy practices and a just transition to clean energy. To make that a reality, the Biden administration should encourage Granholm to work with the EPA, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, and other agencies to ensure our nation’s energy policies are equitable and climate-focused. Where these agencies need new or updated authority, Congress should step in with effective legislation.

To find more proposals and recommendations for the Department of Energy, Congress, and other federal agencies, check out CPR's Climate, Energy, Justice report.

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Center for Progressive Reform’s Policy for a Just America initiative. Learn more on CPR's website.

Top image by TechCrunch, used under Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0.

Climate Justice Climate Energy Environmental Justice

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