Shalanda Baker, a professor of law, public policy, and urban affairs, has joined President Biden’s administration as deputy director for energy justice at the Department of Energy. Baker, a graduate of UW Law’s William H. Hastie Fellowship Program, is taking a leave of absence from Northeastern University School of Law to serve in the administration.
A leading expert on environmental and energy law, Baker co-founded the Initiative for Energy Justice in 2018 to support the delivery of equity-centered energy policy research and technical assistance to policymakers and frontline communities across the country. The organization created a scorecard to guide communities and policymakers creating clean energy policies to ensure they accounted for often marginalized voices. In part because of this work, Baker was selected for the energy justice role.
Biden created the position to tackle climate crisis and build an equitable clean energy future, according to a Department of Energy statement. Biden has promised that more than 40 percent of all administration climate investments will go to environmental justice communities — populations near oil refineries or other fuel production plants where residents face heightened pollution.
In an interview on the Science Friday podcast, Baker said, “In my mind, energy justice is really about ensuring that the benefits and burdens of the energy system are equitably distributed. And further, it’s about [not] censoring the voices of those who have been most harmed and most marginalized by the existing system. So it’s a paradigm shift. It’s about participation, and it’s about equity, and ensuring that folks have a leg up in this new system.”
In her new role, one early priority is addressing the growing home energy bills overwhelming many families that are jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Baker believes that access to clean energy and bill assistance are key to recovery and to addressing inequities. It’s a topic she explored in depth in her new book, Revolutionary Power: An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition, which argues that energy policy should be the next domain to advance civil rights. Examining how the energy system has negatively impacted communities of color, Baker describes the book as “part love story, part memoir, and part policy guide.”