U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm signaled that the federal government would consider locally developed solutions as the Biden administration endeavors to make massive investments in climate and infrastructure programs.
Granholm made her comments during a June 29 tour of New York City, the latest in a string of visits to engage with environmental justice and labor organizations — and to pitch President Joe Biden's plan to create jobs through clean energy and infrastructure investments.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm listened to Uprose, a community organization that advocated for South Brooklyn's offshore wind assembly and maintenance hub.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence
"What I've learned is that every community is unique, and that as we consider how these investments flow, that there are place-based strategies that we've got to craft in partnership with communities," Granholm told reporters at the offices of Brooklyn community organization Uprose. "What's good here is not going to be necessarily good in Houston or in Louisiana or in Oakland."
That would represent a different way of investing for the U.S. Energy Department and rest of the federal government, which has not historically funded projects in partnership with local communities, according to Granholm. She said Washington, D.C., needs to learn from local groups like Uprose, which have done the "really hard work" of identifying community needs and ensuring that they are represented in large development decisions and accrue investment benefits.
Granholm listened to and questioned members of Uprose about their role in advocating for the development of an offshore wind manufacturing hub in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The group fended off plans to develop additional waterfront tech, retail and entertainment space over concerns it would yield gentrification and displace communities of color.
Uprose sought to preserve the "working waterfront" and create jobs in clean energy manufacturing, part of its vision for a Green Resilient Industrial District, or GRID. In January, the state selected the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park for a wind turbine assembly and maintenance hub to service Equinor ASA and BP PLC's Northeast offshore wind projects.
Uprose Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre said she felt positive about Granholm's attention to place-based solutions developed by local leadership. "That's all really promising, and that's something that we're hoping will be part of how DOE moves forward with our communities," she said in an interview.
Yeampierre, who previously chaired the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, said the federal government has historically failed to meaningfully work with community groups to allocate investments. "What the interagency group did was come in and listen, and we'd never hear from them again," she said.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met with union leaders in New York City.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence
Later in the day, Granholm met with trade unions in Manhattan, where she also engaged with labor leaders about local solutions.
Unions recognized several years ago that renewable energy presented a massive emerging employment opportunity, but job standards were not in place, said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council for both New York City and the state. That realization came through the unions' work with Lara Skinner, director of the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at Cornell University's Worker Institute, he said.
These efforts led New York to require prevailing wages and collective bargaining for large-scale renewable energy construction projects in New York, as well as to secure labor standards for operations and maintenance work, LaBarbera said. Additionally, New York's 2022 budget agreement included requirements to buy American iron and steel and incentives to purchase components from New York state manufacturers, he said.
Granholm floated the idea that such initiatives could be a model for the federal government, and she requested Skinner's research on renewable energy labor standards.