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Northeastern law professor who is championing energy justice in Washington gets a promotion

Shalanda Baker, professor of law, public policy and urban affairs, was chosen to lead the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy after serving as deputy director for energy justice since January 2021. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Shalanda Baker, a Northeastern law professor who has been serving in the Biden Administration since January 2021, aims to make equity a lasting quality at the U.S. Department of Energy.

She was promoted this month to director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Energy Department.

“My vision is really to make equity and justice enduring at the Department of Energy,” said Baker, who is on a professional leave of absence from her job at Northeastern. “We do that by baking it into our funding opportunities, baking it into our research and development portfolio, and we do it by building capacity across DOE, educating people, training them, providing tools, because I am not going to be here forever and we need other people to continue this work.”

This is what I have trained for—right this moment—where your scholarship, your research have an impact at a national level. I get to design the energy system of the future, based on what I know.

Shalanda Baker

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said Baker has been a “champion” in the Energy Department.

“I am so grateful to have Shalanda Baker confirmed to serve as director of DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “There is no more effective champion for building an equitable, just, clean energy economy than Shalanda.”

In January 2021, Baker was appointed as deputy director for energy justice at the DOE. Biden created Baker’s role to address two administration priorities—ramping up the use of clean energy and eliminating racial injustice.

“This is what I have trained for—right this moment—where your scholarship, your research have an impact at a national level,” Baker said. “I get to design the energy system of the future, based on what I know, and I am learning every day.”

Granholm emphasized Baker’s efforts to advance Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to deliver 40% of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an environmental justice scorecard.

In her first year and a half of service in Washington, Baker did a lot of work on laying the foundation for Justice40 and equity across the DOE. The team that she built determined the disadvantaged communities that are underserved and overburdened while facing climate risks and hazards. They have identified eight key benefits that they are going to track for Justice40 as well as a number of programs across DOE that support this initiative.

“The first year and a half was really about structure frameworks and building capacity at the agency so that we can move quickly to execute on the president’s vision,” Baker said.

Now Baker will lead the whole Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, which consists of five different divisions that are all driving toward a more equitable energy system and advises the secretary of energy on the impact of energy policies, regulations, and DOE programs on minority communities and institutions, and specific segments of the U.S. population. She is spending a lot of time on embedding equity and justice into all of the existing and new programs, supported under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Baker, who started her professional career in the U.S. Air Force before earning her doctorate in jurisprudence from Northeastern and becoming an energy lawyer, said she has always been interested in equity and justice. She gradually learned about how unequal and inequitable the energy system was and used this knowledge to shape her body of work. 

“I didn’t leave law school thinking I want to work on energy justice. There was no such thing,” Baker said. 

She said that her work can be an example to Northeastern students of how practical skills can be applied to the social justice realm and make an impact in the policy world.

“That’s what we are aiming for—that we want to teach our students how to be in the world, making an impact,” Baker said.

She hopes that her former and future students will be inspired by her transformational work. 

“I miss students, of course, because students are so curious, and they give me so much hope about the future,” Baker said. “[But] now is the time to be doing energy justice.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu. 

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