5 Action Steps for the Department of Energy to Lead National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

President-elect Biden has a mandate to revitalize American industries and deliver good union jobs through an ambitious clean energy economic recovery, and his Energy Secretary nominee has experience doing just that. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm led Michigan through the worst of the Great Recession and worked with then-VP Biden to put clean energy policy at the heart of the Rust Belt’s recovery. Now, as Energy Secretary, Granholm will need to mobilize the full DOE to enact President-elect Biden’s bold agenda to defeat the climate crisis and build a just and thriving clean energy economy.

The DOE must utilize its financing authorities and technology program offices, important regulatory powers, and the unparalleled research capabilities of the National Labs to rapidly shift us to a clean energy economy.

Jennifer Granholm’s leadership was pivotal to rebuilding the auto industry and putting it on a fast track to decarbonization. She also pushed incentives for renewable energy infrastructure and implemented a renewable energy standard for utilities. Her background shows clear commitment to climate issues.

In order to realize Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. The Department of Energy under former Gov. Granholm will be critical in this effort. As President-elect Biden begins an all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions for how the next Department of Energy must act:

The new Energy Secretary should move urgently to leverage its loan and grant programs to boost the development and deployment of clean energy technologies. To support the execution of clean energy projects, DOE’s Loan Programs Office should aggressively deploy its more than $40 billion in loans and loan guarantees, including $17 billion to support the manufacture of advanced-technology vehicles, over $4 billion for innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and $2 billion to support Tribal energy development. And with these financing authorities, and with new investments to be pursued in Congress DOE should play a leading role leading a large-scale investment in an American clean energy economic recovery. Further, to ensure federal leadership in the clean power expansion, the Federal Energy Management Program should more aggressively pursue energy performance savings contracts advancing efficiency and electrification improvements for partner agencies.

The next Secretary should prioritize funding and technical assistance to states and local governments transitioning to clean energy sources. DOE operates several programs providing intergovernmental support through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), and the Secretary should ensure that every available resource is deployed to subnational governments. DOE can expand the reach of the State Energy Program, which has supported projects ranging from industrial sector efficiency to cost-saving retrofits in rural communities, and the Weatherization Assistance Program, which employs more than 8,500 workers improving energy efficiency in low-income households. At the same time, it should bolster the Cities-LEAP project to provide cities with access to energy data and analysis enabling them to take initiative on clean energy innovation. DOE’s Office of Electricity can also work with state energy agencies to fund and deploy smart grid technologies, advancing a national transition to more resilient, efficient, and renewables-friendly power transmission systems. Through these and other financing and technical assistance programs, the next Secretary must fully utilize DOE’s capacity for intergovernmental support.

The next Secretary should raise standards for energy efficiency from appliances, buildings, and industry. DOE’s Appliance and Equipment Standards program is its most important regulatory mitigation tool; the program enforces efficiency standards for dozens of categories of appliances and equipment, saving consumers $1 trillion since 1975 and reducing energy site consumption by an average of 13%. The Secretary should first work to undo the Trump administration’s rollbacks by coming up to speed on delayed standards reviews and complying with the law to update standards for 25 of the 60 appliance categories DOE oversees, ranging from freezers to clothes dryers. Moving forward, the DOE should then set a multi-year calendar for appliance standards to motivate progress, and factor carbon pollution and grid improvements to accelerate decarbonization, promote electrification, and ensure predictability for manufacturers. The next Secretary should also push for the development of a national Zero-Carbon Building Standard for all zero-carbon new buildings across the U.S. by 2030, and partner with states and cities to integrate this standard into new and stronger state and local building codes. And to bolster advances toward industrial efficiency, DOE should increase its grantmaking to support new manufacturing technologies through the Advanced Manufacturing Office, expand its energy audit programs with Industrial Assessment Centers, and revitalize its Industrial Technologies Program to actively deploy innovative energy-saving technology to American industry.

DOE should fully leverage its preeminent energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) programs and capabilities for climate action. The agency’s SunShot initiative, which cut the cost of solar power by 75% three years ahead of schedule, exemplifies the possibilities of an invigorated RDD&D program poised to tackle everything from energy storage and building electrification to biofuels and carbon capture. To that end, the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy must be reoriented to support a full transition to clean energy sources. The Office’s RDD&D agenda should move past failed technologies to focus on more promising climate solutions within its brief, including carbon sequestration for hard-to-abate industry and innovative processes to use sequestered carbon in manufacturing.

Collectively, the DOE’s staff and lab experts have the broadest, most robust energy-related technical expertise, analytical capability, and modeling tools in the federal government. The next Secretary should direct the analysts at DOE’s Office of Science to center climate change and the clean economy transition in their work. The agency’s 17 laboratories should devote significant resources to determining resource efficiency targets and modeling policy outcomes to bolster other agencies’ regulatory proposals. The next Secretary should also immediately revive and fund the DOE Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (EPSA). EPSA has released multiple reports on the U.S. power sector’s vulnerability and resilience to climate impacts, but the Trump administration killed the office. A reinvigorated EPSA can reconvene the U.S. Partnership for Energy Sector Climate Resilience to further study power sector resiliency and work with industry partners to harden American energy infrastructure against escalating climate disasters.

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