The Energy Equity Project is working to create a framework for measuring equity across energy efficiency and clean energy programs among utilities, state regulatory agencies, and other practitioners, while engaging and centering Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities and frontline communities. An equity measurement framework, set to launch in beta form in 2022, will serve environmental and climate justice advocates, practitioners, regulatory agencies, and utilities to drive more equitable investments and outcomes in energy efficiency, distributed generation and storage (i.e. solar + batteries), demand response, electrification, and electric vehicle infrastructure.
The presentation will offer an overview of EEP’s work, including the energy equity issues it addresses in urban contexts, and an update on the framework being developed and the stakeholder engagement process.
We have included the transcript, graphic recording, audio, and video from “The Energy Equity Project” presented by Kyle Whyte and Justin Schott on April 20, 2022.
About the presenters
Kyle Whyte is George Willis Pack Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, teaching in the SEAS environmental justice specialization. He is Affiliate Professor of Native American Studies and Philosophy. His research addresses environmental justice, focusing on moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples, the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and science organizations, and problems of Indigenous justice in public and academic discussions of food sovereignty, environmental justice, and the anthropocene. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
Kyle currently serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, the Management Committee of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and the Board of Directors of the Pesticide Action Network North America. He has served as an author for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, including on the National Climate Assessment, and for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II. He is a former member of the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science in the U.S. Department of Interior and of two environmental justice work groups convened by past state governors of Michigan.
Justin Schott serves as Project Manager of the Energy Equity Project. Prior to coming to EEP, Schott was Executive Director of EcoWorks, a Detroit non-profit, from 2015-2020. He is an avid social entrepreneur and a recognized sustainability leader in Detroit. Prior to becoming Executive Director, Schott designed and managed the launch and operations of numerous community programs, including the Youth Energy Squad (founder), which grew from a summer pilot employing four students in 2009 to a city‐wide partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District. Schott has also worked closely on the creation of utility programs, including the Home Energy Consultation Program, which provided in‐home energy efficient installations and education to 10,500 households in its first 7 months. Schott has chaired the Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm and is a member of steering committees of the Detroit Environmental Agenda; Housing, Health and Heatwaves project; and Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition. Most recently, he is project manager of the Detroit Climate Strategy and architect of Net Zero For All, Starting Today (F.A.S.T.), an initiative to eliminate climate pollution in SE MI while keeping equity and justice front and center.
About the series
Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.
Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.
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“The Energy Equity Project” Transcript
Justin Schott: [00:00:07] It’s about 50% of Black and Latinx households experience some form of energy and security. It’s also worse among households with children, with older adults, often it’s people making tradeoffs between energy and other basic needs. These trade offs are incredibly real and devastating. Same time, we’ve got about 5% of households that are never able to heat or cool their homes. And in Detroit, again, this looks like homes that have experienced terrible street flooding from climate change, getting something like six inches of rain in a couple of hours, basement floods, furnace goes out and people don’t have the means to replace it and just live winter after winter in frigid indoor temperatures.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:49] Can a Cooperative Cities framework address the unequal impact of automated traffic fines in Black and Brown communities? How can alternative land governance models help us respond to our climate challenge? And is there an equity measurement scheme that can bring clean energy programs and investments to frontline communities? These are just a few of the questions we’re exploring this season on Cities@Tufts lectures, a free live event and podcast series will explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:20] Today on the show, we’re featuring Kyle Whyte and Justin Schott’s lecture about the Energy Equity Project. In addition to this audio version, you can watch the video, check out the graphic recording and read the full transcript on Shareable.net. And while you’re there, please take some time to get caught up on all of our past lectures and our ever expanding library of stories, podcasts, how-to-guides and other resources. And now here’s Professor Julian Agyeman, who will welcome you to the Cities@Tufts Spring Colloquium and introduce today’s lecturer.
Julian Agyeman: [00:01:58] Welcome to the Cities@Tufts Colloquium, along with our partners Shareable, the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman, and together with my research assistants, Perri Sheinbaum and Caitlin McLennan, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University’s Medford campus is located on colonized Wampanoag and Massachusetts traditional territory.
[00:02:31] Today we are delighted to welcome Kyle Whyte and Justin Schott. Kyle is George Willis Pack Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, where he teaches in the Environmental Justice Specialization. He’s also an affiliate professor of Native American Studies and philosophy. His research addresses environmental justice, focusing on moral and political issues concerning climate policy and indigenous peoples, the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and science organizations, and the problems of Indigenous justice in public and academic discussions of food sovereignty, environmental justice, and the Anthropocene more widely. He’s an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and Kyle is serving on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
[00:03:23] Justin, his colleague, serves as project manager for the Energy Equity Project. And prior to coming to the Energy Equity Project, he was executive director of Echo Works, a Detroit nonprofit from 2015 to 2020. He’s an avid social entrepreneur and a recognized sustainability leader in Detroit. Kyle and Justin’s talk today is the Energy Equity Project. Kyle and Justin, a zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium as usual microphones off, video off and please send questions for Kyle and Justin through the chat function. Kyle, Justin, the floor is yours.
Kyle Whyte: [00:04:04] Great. And thank you, Julian, for the warm welcome and great to be connecting with the community here. I wanted to start off with a few remarks about the origins of the Energy Equity Project and my involvement before asking Justin to describe some of the work that we’re doing. So we have an environmental justice program at the University of Michigan. And originally when I joined the faculty, I was very inspired by Tony Reames work and people should look up Professor Reames work just on a Google scholar. And one of the contributions that Professor Reames made was to really uncover some of the ways in which environmental injustice affects very intimate relationships that households and families have with where they get their energy from — the cost of energy and the health and other impacts that occur when communities are often facing higher shut offs of their energy and affected by climate change and other social economic burdens.
[00:05:03] And so Professor Reames work has really brought household issues that face many communities and that ultimately threatened the capacity of Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities to being able to participate equally in the energy transition toward renewable energy. And so when Dr. Reames went on leave to join the Department of Energy, given my own interests in energy justice issues tied to Indigenous people, I joined this project, now some months back, as its principal investigator and have had an excellent relationship with Justin Schott, the project manager. And Justin will describe more about our project and what follows. I look forward to rejoining the conversation during the question and answer.
Justin Schott: [00:05:48] Hey, thank you, Kyle, and thank you for the warm welcome. It’s great to be here with everybody and shout out to Dr. Reames for being in the house. Great to see you, Tony. So, yeah, I’ve been part of this work with the Energy Equity Project for the last year and want to spend today just running through how we work to develop the standardized approach to measuring and advancing equity in clean energy investments and energy efficiency programs. And then take a look at a couple of cases of how having this kind of framework can actually make change. So starting with looking at shutoffs and energy and security and then taking a look at some of the implications of the Justice40 work and screening tools in general.
[00:06:31] So developing the framework, I want to just start with our vision for this. So we want this to be a robust and consistent methodology that’s here so that we have a standard way of measuring and defining equity. But we are very specific about our motivations in doing this work — that the benefits that come from this kind of framework will directly benefit BIPOC, lower-income, and frontline communities. We’re working with the four pillars of energy justice, so recognition justice, looking at community demographics, who’s vulnerable and who’s privileged. Procedural justice, thinking about who’s at the table and what power they have in designing the energy system and decision making. Distributional justice, so thinking about the benefits and the burdens and how those reach different communities. And then something that you see less often, restorative justice, thinking about the process that’s gotten us to the energy disparities that we see today. How do we make sure that we have structures in place so that those do not perpetuate in the future.
[00:07:33] And so where we are, we are about a year into the development of this and actually a little longer — it traces back to 2018 to a summer study with ACEEE, but so we’ve got these four dimensions that you see on the left side of the table here, and we’ve actually broken those down further conceptually into 12 indexes or sub-dimensions. And with those sub dimensions, we’ve got a number of metrics, we’ve got guiding principles, as well as ways to address qualitative measures. And so this has come together from really intensive community-driven work. So we’ve hosted ten listening sessions so far, heard from over 400 people about how they envision each of these dimensions and sub-dimensions, which metrics they think should be included in the final framework and how they want to represent those qualitative elements. That’s really important that we’re blending both approaches.
[00:08:27] So from those listening sessions, we formed workgroups. We’ve got 50 people, it’s about 55% BIPOC and 85% women and higher percentages aong our lead authors that are leading this work, most are from either community organizations or nonprofits, but we’ve got a mix of government folks and some utility contractors there as well. So a pretty diverse group of people that are helping us to think about this. And our charge to the workgroups was to develop the conceptual basis for these dimensions of equity. So to ask first, this is something we often skip over what makes an equitable program? And then within that question, what are the elements that we can quantify? What needs to remain qualitative considerations, and what are some best practices that they would advise to users of this framework?
[00:09:16] I want to focus here on coming up with principles that represent these dimensions. I think too often we think about quantitative data, which there’s more and more of that we can grab, and we just start digging into the data without thinking about what it ties back to. So this is where we’ve spent actually the majority of our time with the workgroups is thinking about these principles, thinking about how we define the dimension itself. And so what that’s looked like is a lot of jam-boarding sessions, a lot of asking ourselves what we mean by each of these dimensions, what problems we’re trying to solve, what the status quo is, what happens if we don’t have this dimension in place? What are the existing efforts where the gaps, right? But this has been a lot of qualitative work in developing the dimensions in order to get to a few guiding principles for each of those dimensions. And this is within the restorative group. They’ve actually broken down restorative justice into reparations and accountability, community ownership of energy, and an Indigenous allyship sub-dimension.
[00:10:26] And so from, from that intensive work and really thinking about why each of these dimensions is critical. We get to principles like this that are meant to really be the true north for programs and investments and meant to inspire us and continue to hold us accountable as well. So we might come up with principles like everybody has access to energy. If that’s the principle, then that means no more shutoffs. We might want to guarantee that everybody has some level of health and safety and comfort in their homes or has a maximum energy burden of 6%. So this is the kind of work that we’ll be presenting in the framework and really emphasizing again, I can’t say this enough, start with the principles before following with the data.
[00:11:09] And we want to make sure that we’re telling the stories that communities have been experiencing for so long and that aren’t necessarily going to show up in the data. So this is work done by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, looking at connections between redlining — this is here in Birmingham — and energy use intensity based on the quality of housing that people have.
[00:11:30] And so the last piece of this before we get to metrics is making sure that we are representing community narratives. This is so critical because the data has gaps, it has inaccuracies. It’s not always at the right scale. And so the voice of the people always needs to be front and center in this work. It’s not something where we’re going to get a data lead or a particular score that we think will do justice to what communities have experienced. And I want to just turn it to Kyle here to talk a little bit about some of the specific work that we’ve started on this Indigenous sovereignty dimension.
Kyle Whyte: [00:12:04] Absolutely. One of the key issues that many tribes face is having been left out of all previous periods of intensive infrastructure investment. And this creates a situation where tribal communities have to coordinate around how it is that they’re going to not only make up for all of that lost time due to colonialism but also emerge as governance leaders in the energy justice transition. And so we’ve recently been having conversations with a number of Indigenous persons, people working in a number of different community capacities on energy equity issues to try to find whether there is a pathway for tribes to exercise self-determination and self-governance and to really demonstrate a new vision of how to establish energy equity. And so this is bringing in the importance of tribal culture, Indigenous knowledge, the lessons learned over time of having to have exercised self-governance under very hostile conditions within the United States. And so we’re really quite hopeful that these emerging conversations will continue and that we’re going to have a really strong Indigenous pathway tied to the energy equity and energy justice work.
Justin Schott: [00:13:22] Thanks, Kyle. So once we’ve taken all of that time to think about the qualitative issues and the guiding principles, then we were able to get down to this kind of decision tree and thinking about of our proposed metrics is this data that’s accessible, who’s reporting it? What sort of geographical scale are we looking at? What frequency does it come in? Do we even need this piece of data? So we did a lot of work there. We looked back at some of the live polling we had done from our listening sessions and the scores that people gave some of our proposed metrics. And ultimately we considered 148 potential metrics. 29 of these are included. 16 are identified as priority data gaps, eight of them, mostly procedural issues, are ones where there’s an interest in creating rating scales to represent those metrics quantitatively. 27 were moved to best practices and then 68 we’ve left out of the framework either because there was insufficient data or we didn’t think that was feasible to get, or simply because they were deemed not the most valuable or representative.
[00:14:27] And so the quantitative piece of our work with the Energy Equity Project will be this final map where you can dig into the data and the scores and see what’s there. But we also want to highlight the data gaps that we’re seeing in some of those deeper fundamental issues that Kyle was raising that tribal communities experience.
[00:14:44] All right. So that’s the Energy Equity Project.I want to turn now to the application of frameworks like EEP (Energy Equity Projet). So there’s a whole lot, right? We’ve got trillions of dollars in investments coming through the infrastructure bill, through regular government agency expenditures, through state legislation. Couldn’t be a riper time, I think, for this kind of framework. Currently, the landscape of tools that we have now is primarily qualitative, I would say. We’ve got a lot of the screening tools that are emerging that are working to define environmental justice communities, but there’s not so much on the quantitative side that is there to define an energy equity score.
[00:15:24] So a couple of examples are here from the Initiative for Energy Justice and the ACEEE scorecards. We’ve also got some tools that have been around for a little longer, like the low income energy affordability data tool from DOE (Department of Energy). This is looking at energy burdens or the percentage that households spend at a census tract level. So it’s nice to have that kind of fine-grained analysis. And this is looking at people in Alabama living below the poverty line. And you can see pretty major disparities here. So some households experiencing a 40% energy burden adjacent to other households that are experiencing burdens below 8%. So this really can help us identify where investments are needed.
[00:16:05] So here’s one case where we’ve got insufficient data around shutoffs and energy and security. Most investor-owned utilities are not reporting these widely. They’re not required to by states miraculously. And so we have to rely on other data sources to get a sense for what’s happening. And so you can see it’s about 50% of Black and Latinx households experience some form of energy insecurity. It’s also worse among households with children with older adults and older housing stock.
[00:16:35] The form that that energy insecurity takes most often is people making tradeoffs between energy and other basic needs. I’ve seen this tragically with a friend in Detroit very recently who was in this exact situation, unable to pay both her energy bills and to get medical care. And she’s now facing stage four breast cancer because she was afraid to not be keeping up with energy bills. So these trade offs are incredibly real and devastating. Same time, we’ve got about 5% of households that are never able to heat or cool their homes. And in Detroit, again, this looks like homes that have experienced terrible street flooding from climate change, getting something like six inches of rain in a couple of hours, basement floods, furnace goes out and people don’t have the means to replace it and just live winter after winter in frigid indoor temperatures. The data that we have on energy insecurity goes all the way back to 2015. And it’s a sample of just 15 states that participated in the last residential energy consumption survey data. And we won’t have new data, it looks like, until 2023 where hopefully we’ll get a national sample. But we’ve got some pretty significant gaps both in time as well as geographic coverage there.
[00:17:49] So some folks have been working to try to fill those gaps. This is from the Energy Justice Lab at Indiana University, and they’ve been doing these quarterly surveys. So this most recent one from the last winter. This is a survey, a nationally representative survey, showing 13 and a half percent of people experienced a disconnection during this winter still in the midst of a pandemic. You can see that those shut offs are not experienced consistently, depending on what race you’re in here. So particularly hitting Hispanic households hard, there’s the highest rate of shutoffs to receiving a disconnection notice among Black households and also these other households, which they didn’t have enough people in the sample, I believe, to break down further, but that would include Indigenous people as well as Asian Americans. And then this one is most striking to me. Households with youngest children, almost 29% of those households experienced a shut off. Just devastating to think about this. And I think something that’s widely underreported.
[00:18:51] So where do we go from here if we know shutoffs are happening? We’ve had to plug this gap really through researchers doing these surveys, promptly trying to get us some more current data. So one place that we can begin to look deeper is at shutoff protections and what different states are doing there. So this is work that’s continuing from the IU Energy Justice lab. They’ve done a really nice job of documenting the protections across all of the states.
[00:19:16] You can see most states have some kind of cold weather shutoff protection. Very few actually have hot weather protections, even though heat kills a lot more people than cold does. And so from here, we could think about creating some kind of rating scale so that we’re able to assess the states based on their shutoff protections. So this is draft work that we’ve done at EEP. And so California there is at the top, which is interesting because we’ll turn to that in a minute, but it doesn’t have to be the usual suspects here. So Arkansas actually with this framework, would come in at number two for having really quality shutoff protections.
[00:19:51] Shutoffs in a lot of places have been happening much more aggressively. This is in California. You can see relatively low rates from 2010 to 2012 and those increased dramatically toward the middle of the 2010s. They also disproportionately hit people of color, as you might imagine, particularly Latinx households, and they don’t affect everybody. So some people in the green line at the bottom are on a payment plan, shutoffs there have stayed about the same or even gone down during that same period. And it’s people that aren’t able to get on to that affordable payment plan that have experienced the brunt of increasing shutoffs. There’s this sense that people can just go get assistance and go get weatherization, can jump into an energy efficiency program so that they’re not facing these high energy burdens.
Justin Schott: [00:20:37] And what we find is that’s just not the case. So they looked at this in Minnesota and said this is going to be centuries before they’re able to serve everybody with this need. So almost 300 years at the current pace to weatherize every home that’s eligible. And it’s not that there’s not money in the system to do this. So just with the CARES Act, we had over a billion dollars that were provided to investor-owned utilities. It would have taken eight and a half percent of that billion to ensure that no households were shut off. And yet during that same span, this is 2020 to 2021, nearly a million households were disconnected by just 15 investor-owned utilities.
[00:21:18] So coming back to California, not all utilities are the same. You can see some disparities here in the rates of reconnection with SoCal Gas doing a much worse job of getting people reconnected after they’ve been shut off. And Edison down at the bottom seeming to take a much more punitive approach to shutoffs, even though there’s not a significant difference in their customer base in terms of income or energy burden. And we can do something about that when we get granular data. So this is the California PUC that’s saying, wait a minute, if we have shut off rates that are much higher among some utilities, we need much more aggressive caps on the percentage of people that they can be shutting off. And they also upgraded their shut off protections require that everybody receive an offer to participate in energy efficiency programs, who is facing a shut off and some other protections to slow down the process. So when we have this kind of granular data, we can do a lot to change what’s happening and the shutoffs that people are experiencing.
[00:22:21] So I’m just going to run through now shifting gears to Justice40 and what we’ve seen in the screening tool there. And then we’ll open up for questions. So I’ll run through this pretty quickly, but we can go back through any questions that come up. So we know Justice40 has emerged from from states in a bottom-up way. The New York Renews coalition coming up with this concept of Justice40. New York’s got 45 indicators that they’re using now to identify environmental justice communities. So the first set focusing on environmental and climate burdens, and the second focusing on population and health vulnerabilities. And I think really notably here they are doubling the wait for indicators of race. So for people who are Black and people who are Latinx, they get double the weight in this screening tool. And what we end up with is 35% of the communities or the census tracts, I should say, in New York being designated for the benefits of the climate bill there.
[00:23:24] So Justice40, following a similar process in February, they released the beta version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, and what this beta version does is takes a similar methodology, although excluding race and it identifies 29% of the population in census tracts to receive 40% of the benefits. So this still means the 71% of tracts that are not disadvantaged will receive 60% of the benefits. Now, that’s a floor, the 40%, but that’s often how it’s conceived that we just have to hit the 40%. And I wanted to just question this as good policy at the start. How did we land on 40% being the right number?
[00:24:10] So here’s an example, just thinking about distributional justice. If we look at the tax credits for things like solar and electric vehicles in the previous decade, think about — how much do you think the richest decile received of those 18 billion in tax credits? And how much do you think the bottom 60% received? So here’s the answer: we’ve got almost 11 billion of that 18 going to the richest 10% and just 1.8 billion being spread across the bottom 60% of households there. Or 36 times less in tax credits per household. Some other details here. The median income for households installing solar is dropping. Thankfully, we’ve got some really good data from DOE on this. It’s now 113,000, but still 90% or so of the tax credits for EVs are coming to the highest-income households.
Justin Schott: [00:25:03] So what if we rethought this concept that we’ve got behind Justice40 and we said this could be Justice70, right? 70% going to the most disadvantaged communities. What would the results of that be? It still is going to take a while to catch up to that historical gap that’s been created benefiting that top decile with clean energy benefits. And I think this is the kind of thinking that we need to be doing to say, let’s not stop and say 40% for the most disadvantaged, 29% is a good ratio or sufficient to account for these historical disparities.
[00:25:38] And then just a little bit more about what we found in the tool before I pause and we can get to questions. So some of these states, you can see like Mississippi, half the tracts roughly are designated as disadvantaged, a little bit less in West Virginia, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and then states in New England, it’s about ten times less in New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming surprisingly. You can see that tracts are more likely, certainly to be disadvantaged the higher percentage of BIPOC people that live there, but it’s not a perfect 1 to 1 ratio. So in a tract that’s got, say, 50% BIPOC, it’s something like 35% of those tracts are designated as disadvantaged.
[00:26:23] Again, we’ve got major issues with gaps in tribal data. In particular. California has decided that it will designate tribal lands as disadvantaged tracts through their CAL Enviro-screen. But that’s not what we’re seeing with the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool just yet. So here’s an example from Pine Ridge Reservation on Oglala Lakota lands. There’s simply these massive data gaps here, and without the data gaps, this census tract and its surrounding tracts are excluded from that designation to receive Justice.40 benefits.
[00:26:55] Most of the tracts just meet of these 21 thresholds. Very few are on the right side, the long tail here. This is the most disadvantaged tract, the only one that meets 15 thresholds — it’s in St Louis here, bisected by Interstate 70. But many of the other tracts, you’ll see, I think there’s a big need for ground-truthing. So we have tracts in South Beach and Palo Alto. Some of these may be because of linguistic isolation, but I think we really need to look at the methodology that’s enabling that. Other tracts will be clearly vulnerable to climate impacts like these south of New Orleans, but excluded because they’re just above the income thresholds.
[00:27:35] Sometimes two tracts may look nearly identical. Dorchester here, which many of you may know, is not disadvantaged, but North Quincy is primarily because of linguistic isolation. Yeah, so we’ve got some issues with that, some things that we’re seeing as we go through the data that give us pause and certainly highlight the need that we have to do a better job with data. But I will stop there. Kyle, any other remarks before we turn to discussion?
Kyle Whyte: [00:28:03] No, thank you very much. Just and I look forward to the discussion.
Julian Agyeman: [00:28:06] Thanks, both of you for an excellent presentation. And I’m going to take moderator prerogative and ask a question that hasn’t actually been — you didn’t really talk about it, but it just came to my attention. This notion of race-neutral allocation policy going on in the EPA and the White House at the moment. I was reading about it specifically in relation to pollution abatement, but are you seeing anything in your work that is pushing us towards race-neutral strategies?
Kyle Whyte: [00:28:39] I’m happy to provide some response to that, Julian, I appreciate the chance to to discuss that. So there’s a couple of things going on and maybe I’ll step back a bit and mention some fairly obvious things just for the sake of building on foundation. So the federal government, like Environmental Protection Agency and others, have used screening tools before primarily to assess issues that particular communities or neighborhoods and others were facing. And so those screening tools — one is called environmental justice seat or edge seat — that includes kind of racial information.
[00:29:25] But when it comes to the climate economic justice screening tool, that is a tool that is designated as a resource allocation tool. So it is solely responsible, not solely — it’s one of the key factors that’s responsible for how agencies and others make decisions about who receives certain proportions of funds. And so when the council and environmental quality begin to advance this screening tool, their legal advisors made the judgment that as a resource allocation tool, it would be overburdened by lawsuits, and so it would never be able to take shape. And so the race-neutral aspect came about as a fear of lawsuits and thinking that everything would be dashed. But it wasn’t about an attempt to necessarily be race-neutral.
Julian Agyeman: [00:30:20] Yeah. Yeah, it was it was a pragmatic move then in many ways.
Kyle Whyte: [00:30:26] Yes. And there’s obviously people that disagree with that. So that’s not necessarily my recommendation, but more just my statement about one of the narratives about what happened.
Julian Agyeman: [00:30:38] Yeah, exactly. Okay more questions, people. Tom Stanton, you’ve asked a lot of questions and I’m just going to choose one. How does your shut off data account for COVID related moratoria. Moratoria or deaths? I’m not sure what you mean by moratoria there, Tom, but you might want to — do you want to put your question to Kyle and Justin?
Tom Stanton: [00:31:12] Hi friends. Moratorium means stopping shut-offs during the COVID crisis. And then state by state, as the regulators decide that the COVID crisis is over. They’re going to remove those preventions of shut offs. And what we’re seeing is huge numbers of the population will come out of this owing a great deal of debt to different kinds of utility companies, plus their mortgage or rent payments. And so there’s a very heightened, increased risk of homelessness and major, major disruptions state by state as those moratoria get lifted.
[00:32:03] And I was looking at the chart that Justin showed of the timeline of disconnections and wondering what happened during that roughly two year time period when disconnections were being stopped by this kind of state policy? And are we already seeing the change as those policies end? Thank you.
Justin Schott: [00:32:27] Yeah, thanks for the question, Tom, I think, because we’ve got data on when those moratoria were lifted, as well as at least the location of 15 investor-owned utilities that were featured in this power list and the pandemic report, we can see those different effects of how aggressively states and utilities were coming back with shutoffs as people were facing these massive arrears. If they hadn’t been paying bills for months, they were still getting set up in this position to be shut off. So yeah, I think we have a variety of data there to be looking at.
[00:33:08] Again, it’s selective. Most states are still not requiring utilities to be reporting, so sometimes people can get that as interveners. Certainly commissioners have the opportunity to get all of that data and make it transparent. It’s just unfortunate that that does not happen. So we’ve been in conversation with staff at Senator Markey’s office and with others as well, thinking about how do we get this data to be universally reported. I think that’s probably the number one thing that we’re hearing from grassroots advocates is first, we want shut off moratoria to be permanent. But in the interim, we need all of the data on what’s happening and how vulnerable people are.
Julian Agyeman: [00:33:53] Great. Thanks. Thanks, Tom, for the question. Another Tom — we will ask questions to people not called Tom eventually — Tom Llewellyn: Have you noticed a significant difference in shutoffs between investor-owned utilities and the rural electric cooperatives serving their 42 million member-owners across the US?
Justin Schott: [00:34:14] Yeah, Tom, another great question. I have not seen data from the rural electric co-ops on their shut-offs, and I think that’s because they face different standards from PUCs. So we’re not able to answer that. I think there’s sometimes a perception that cooperative governance will lead to better outcomes, but what we hear from people in these communities is often that it’s actually worse because they don’t have oversight from their state commissions. So yeah, I think that needs a lot of work to unpack.
Julian Agyeman: [00:34:44] Thank you. Lisa LaRocque, have you had the opportunity to weave in the qualitative community stories so that your data has context?
Justin Schott: [00:34:56] Was there something you wanted to offer with that, Kyle, or…
Kyle Whyte: [00:35:00] Well, I can — maybe go first and then I can, yeah, I did want to add some things.
Justin Schott: [00:35:04] Yeah. So we’re actually working on this right now, as we are getting all of our data sets into this national map at the census tract level, that we recognize data is not going to tell the whole story in both good and bad ways, right? So there may be powerful community organizing that’s happening, that’s giving people access to their own community. Solar, for instance, that may not yet be reflected in, say, energy burdens or other data sets that we have. And so we’re trying to put those specific narratives on the map and give communities the opportunity to tell us what’s happening, tell the story alongside their data so we can fill in where their data gaps, but also learn where there are positive pieces happening. So we’re looking to spotlight, I think, three or four communities in our first map with the Energy Equity Project.
Kyle Whyte: [00:35:55] And I also just wanted to add to that, this is a little bit to the side of your question, Lisa, but I just wanted to mention this. I think when I joined this project, I very much saw it as a project that was reflecting an environmental justice movement approach to to indicators and to data. I mean, I think one of the things that has been kind of erased with these national discussions about the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool is that communities, organizers and others for decades. I mean, even, thinking about Julian’s work on just sustainable cities and indicators of environmental justice and metrics regarding cities and a number of diverse contexts that Julian’s worked in — and I think if you look in the just the entire movement, going back to toxic waste and race report and other key aspects even earlier than that, depending on who you’re referring to, that there have been these approaches by communities, by organizations, by other advocates of environmental justice to harness data.
[00:37:03] And so I kind of see this project asstarting with people, you know, like Justin and others who have been working in the organizing space and the social entrepreneurs space on data and energy issues. And like Justin said, there’s all this — we’ve spent all this time mobilizing the coalition, having discussions, exchanges, working sessions, and now we’re coming back to the stories that I think got everything started in the first place when when Justin, Tony Reames and others really put this project in place.
Julian Agyeman: [00:37:37] Okay. There’s no more questions in the chat. I do have a question. The Arkansas outlier. Can you explain that? I think you had the usual suspects and then Arkansas was in there. What’s going on?
Justin Schott: [00:37:53] Yeah. So a couple of things that we looked at. There were the extent of their COVID moratoria — the number of days that that covered as well as how that was kind of bookended by both their cold weather and their warm weather shutoffs. And so they’ve got one of the longest extensive protection from shutoffs of any other state that’s there. They’ve also got more, I believe, for people with medical conditions and some better just procedural parts to it as well. So making sure that they’re sufficient notice, that people have sufficient time to make payment before they’re shut off. So those were areas that Arkansas is doing well in, too. So yeah, I found that was really interesting and really helpful to not just think of energy justice as something that’s monolithic, right? We can be really strong in one area and we can work with states and make sure that that’s being communicated as well.
Julian Agyeman: [00:38:49] Great, okay. So we’ve got a question from Bindu from University of Vermont. What happens to all the listening sessions that you did? How are you using this engagement and data collected from these listening sessions? How are you continuing to engage the communities?
Justin Schott: [00:39:07] Yeah, great question. So we’ve got pretty detailed write-ups from all of those as well as the scores that we were hearing. We did each of the listening sessions with a different audience, and so they’re done with, for instance, grassroots communities, with just regulators, with just utility folks, so that we can see the differences there. And as part of the report that we release with this first framework we’ll be including a chapter that has all of that, both the data, as well as some of the representative comments that we heard. So, yes, that’s very critical to transparency for us that people see how the feedback from the listening sessions influenced the final selection of guiding principles and metrics
[00:39:49] And then in terms of continuing engagement, yeah, our next step with a framework will be looking to support people that have a local case where they think using the framework could be beneficial. So these may be nonprofits that are developing testimony in a rate case, for instance. And so we’ll be putting out a call for people to work with us directly and get some training on how to use the framework.
Julian Agyeman: [00:40:14] Great. Thank you. We’ve got a question here from our Brown House listening group, for you, Kyle and Justin, the Brown House is where UEP is based. There’s a classroom and we have a group of people there watching you. What do you think are the most effective ways to push utility companies that have the highest rates of shutoffs to adapt more fair warning/shut off processes.
Justin Schott: [00:40:38] Kyle, do you want me to start with this?
Kyle Whyte: [00:40:41] Yeah, please do.
Justin Schott: [00:40:42] Yeah, I think we’ve got a few different pathways there. I think getting the data as a start is absolutely critical. And people have been saying this for years. So I don’t want to say that the data somehow brings this to light, when we’ve been hearing about shut offs, people with young children, when it’s 20 degrees outgetting shut off in the middle of winter. So we need to go back and revisit those stories and make sure that those are heard. But I think liberating the data is absolutely critical and ideally making that apply to not just IOUs but to, as Tom mentioned, the rural electric co-ops. That needs to be the universal standard. And hopefullythere’s some sense of both, I think, shock from seeing what that’s like — I don’t think the general public has a good sense for how severe this issue is. I think it really in some ways can give commissioners more, can empower them, I think, to make decisions once that’s on the record and they’re seeing just how devastating these impacts are.
[00:41:51] I think something else too is like what are the actual benefits of cutting people off from energy? You’re not bringing in a lot of money and yet we know people are losing their lives as a result. And so this is not in the grand scheme, a terribly expensive problem to fix. And so I think just getting the data out there says there’s obviously got to be a better alternative to doing this. And we saw just during COVID that moratoria work, it is possible. Utilities would tell you we can’t do this, somebody has to pay. And yet in a crisis, we were able to stop shutting people off. So I think that’s a powerful example that we can turn to and say this could be permanent.
Julian Agyeman: [00:42:35] Okay. Next question from Meghan. Can you discuss the moral and ethical quandary of large investments in increasing energy efficiency in high income areas as the wealthy consume far more energy when compared to the consumption of BIPOC, low income communities?
Justin Schott: [00:42:53] Yeah, I think I just want to pull out some ways that that actually happens because utilities will say, well, we put out the call rate and anybody can participate in this. And it’s just people don’t sign up. And we know there’s culturally inappropriate marketing or no marketing at all in communities of color and poor communities. We know that they don’t have opportunities for people to speak with someone who speaks their native language in coordinating to get service. And then we know, this is work that Dr. Reames has done a lot of, that the stores in people’s neighborhoods are not the same. Right. So what you would get in a wealthier, whiter suburb is going to be far better service, probably lower prices than you might see in a neighborhood in Detroit where you may not be able to find energy efficiency products.
[00:43:43] I’ve heard from contractors specifically saying they refuse to come into the city of Detroit to do work, even though there are utility rebates for them to do that because they just don’t need to, they’re afraid, whatever race-based motives are there. That’s how this actually works in practice, that people are excluded from that. So I think looking at those underlying practices and disparities is a big piece of this, right? That’s the reason why there’s different levels of access there. And if we don’t do something, we’re just going to continue that same issue that we have with EV credits, right, where the wealthiest 10% are going to capture 90% of this. If we claim this is a race neutral and a wealth neutral policy.
Kyle Whyte: [00:44:30] Absolutely. And one of the issues that we really need to shatter is that so much of the discussion over the years has really focused on the idea that wealthy people as large consumers, large emitters, you know, how do we deal with that? How do we create an energy transition in relation to those populations? And part of the work that Dr. Reames did, was to expose that there was an entire other universe where people of color, for example, are going to be cut out of the energy transition precisely because of the costs imposed on those communities of transitioning into clean and renewable energy and the difficulties that many communities face and being able to participate in the available programs.
[00:45:18] And so I think that there needs to be more symmetry in terms of focusing on Black, Brown and Indigenous communities as emerging as leaders in the energy transition, as having a different identity in relation to energy in the just transition. And their carbon footprints or their energy footprints may be lower in different tegards, but I think that we can think more symmetrically about the fact that it’s of great importance for all communities to think about the dynamics that will prevent them from emerging as leaders from not being exploited in the needed energy transition.
Julian Agyeman: [00:45:55] Great. Thanks, Kyle. Question from Zanetta from Sharable. Can you give an overview of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, how the data that has been collected will be used, and what potential that it has to address some of the issues you’ve raised?
Kyle Whyte: [00:46:13] Sure. Absolutely. So I can respond to the first part and then I believe, Anita, that your question about the the data is having to do with the Energy Equity Project, so I’ll turn that to Justin, unless you write in something further, which you’re more than welcome to do. Yeah, so in terms of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, so a few quick points about it. So first of all, it is a council that is advising basically all government agencies on environmental justice. And the Biden-Harris administration has been very explicit that they want their policies to be implemented in a whole of government approach, meaning all the agencies need to be coordinated with each other.
[00:47:03] And so last year, like a year ago January, when our council was formed, we had three mandates: we had to create revisions on the current environmental justice policy executive order 12898. We had to create vast recommendations on what the Justice40 initiative means, the key concepts and what programs and policies it needs to be implemented for. And then the other one was to actually create a scorecard to be able to measure the government’s effectiveness in achieving key environmental justice metrics. And part of all of this was an additional charge to create recommendations on the climate and economic justice screening tool.
[00:47:52] And so we have been performing all those functions, and it’s been quite a laborious process, many long evening meetings and many reports. And our based reports are from May of last year, which are reports about these different areas. But we’ve run into some particular challenges. We haven’t heard back yet on our recommendations on the environmental justice policy. Some of the deadlines in terms of accomplishing tasks on the screening tool and Justice40 have been very much delayed. And we realized that there’s a key blockage on anything we propose, which is states and local governments.
[00:48:32] So we’re working through those challenges, and we’ve created a new working group on climate change, as well as a new working group on Indigenous people and tribal nations. And we continue to have public meetings which are on our website, but we do report directly to the White House and a number of our recommendations have been implemented. But before I say too much, I’ll turn it to Justin for the other aspects of your good questions, Zanetta.
Justin Schott: [00:48:59] Yeah, just come back to CEJST and the screening tool, I do think it’s really valuable that we have all of these data sets in one place. And I also want to note that it’s open for public comment until April 25th. So I don’t think they have a ton of comments. I’ve been going to their public meetings. There have not been a lot of speakers taking that opportunity. So if you want to check out that tool, this is the time to do it in the next five days.
Kyle Whyte: [00:49:45] One thing I wanted to say to Zanetta’s question, if you were also asking about — at least the way that Justin responded to the data in the climate economic justice screening tool — there are some moral issues to actually look out for that are on the horizon, including a change in how regulation occurs. Because previously, if we think about different examples of of government regulation, say, for example, policies that require public participation for certain types of permitting processes. So what we see is that when policies like that get introduced, that sort of changes the regulatory ecosystem and private industry, non-profit others then contribute to that ecosystem in different ways, right? Hence private industry, for example, taking over and enacting their own public participation processes and and things like that which many of us might question.
[00:50:49] And so at the Justice40 initiative and the screening tool, we’re actually seeing a regulatory realignment. And it’s making it so that agencies now have to consider measuring the impact of their benefits — of their investments on the ground. But like Justin was saying, the data in the screening tool doesn’t allow for agencies to prioritize or to make specific decisions. It simply provides information on a very diverse communities. And so one of the things that’s happening is that private industry as well as nonprofit, are entering into this regulatory change. And they’re saying, well, we’re going to make our own better screening tools, and they’re going to use that to make the case to agencies, to the public sector, but also to the private sector that some communities should be prioritized for large multilateral investments.
[00:51:44] And so the Justice40 initiative, especially as agencies really roll out their policies for it, is going to change the regulatory ecosystem and private industry, nonprofit, wealthy people are very much trying to be on top of that and I have no idea what the outcomes will be. But I think all of us need to be very vigilant about what that means. No different from how public participation policy was co-opted or other regulatory innovations were co-opted.
Julian Agyeman: [00:52:13] Thank you for a fascinating conversation. The thing I like about this is we can watch this project develop and and its influence, I’m sure, is going to be pretty strong in the years going ahead. So, again, thank you. Justin Schott, Kyle Whyte, University of Michigan. And we have our final colloquium next Wednesday, April 27th, when Quilian Riano from the New School will present: Gaming the System: Role-playing Spatial and Political Change. Thanks for your support of Cities@Tufts, Kyle and Justin. Thank you particularly. Thank you.
Justin Schott: [00:52:54] Great to be here. Thanks for inviting us, Julian.
Julian Agyeman: [00:52:56] Thank you.
Kyle Whyte: [00:52:57] Thank you everybody.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:53:01] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. You can access the video transcript and graphic recordings of Kyle Whyte and Justin Schott’s lecture on Shareable.net. There’s a direct link in the show notes. As Julian mentioned, our next live online event is Wednesday, April 20th, when we’ll feature Julian Quilian Riano’s lecture: Gaming the System: Role-playing Spatial and Political Change. Click the link in the episode notes to register for a free ticket. And if you can’t join us live, you can always find the recording right here on the podcast.
[00:53:32] Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Kresge Barr and Shift Foundation’s. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Perri Sheinbaum and Caitlin McLennan. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor. Zanetta Jones manages communications. Alison Huff manages operations. Anke Dregnet illustrated the graphic recording, and the series is produced and hosted by me Tom Llewellyn. Please hit subscribe, leave a rating review wherever you get your podcasts and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought:
Justin Schott: [00:54:17] And so the last piece of this is making sure that we are representing community narratives. This is so critical because the data has gaps, it has inaccuracies. It’s not always at the right scale. And so the voice of the people always needs to be front and center in this work.