Rush Remarks at the American Association of Blacks in Energy 2020 Energy Policy Summit
WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, delivered remarks at the American Association of Blacks in Energy 2020 Energy Policy Summit, highlighting his priorities heading into the 117th Congress as they relate to increasing diversity in the energy sector and better serving the energy needs of communities of color.
Rush Remarks as Delivered:
Good afternoon and thank you, Ms. Glover, for your generous introduction. The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) is the nation’s premier trade association for Black energy professionals. It’s core mission to increase the representation of African American’s within the energy industry, and to give people of color a voice in energy policy issues, brings us together at a critical juncture for communities of color. With this in mind, I extend my gratitude to President Glover and the membership of the association for welcoming me to the AABE 2020 Energy Policy Summit.
During the 1970s, the United States was met with several challenges — including the energy crises of 1973 and 1979, which resulted in a nation-wide call to conserve energy, reduce energy demand, and bring up to scale alternative energy sources. Within this decade, the federal government structured a presidential energy task force, the Department of Energy, and low-income energy assistance programs — such as the Weatherization Assistance Program — to address the nation’s energy needs amid the ongoing crisis. However, absent from the decision-making process to address these challenges was the representation of the Black community’s energy needs. It is this omission that prompted a group of black energy leaders to structure AABE as a mechanism to influence energy policymaking.
The government’s sustained partnership with this association is indispensable not only to the energy industry’s future, but it is also vital to addressing an array of systemic obstacles the Black community faces today. In recent months, the United States has endured the sweeping impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, massive job losses not seen since the Great Depression, and structural inequities that afflict our nation, which has become all the more apparent — especially for those unacquainted with these injustices personally.
The disproportionate impact of injustices within the Black community is especially alarming. We have seen these injustices through our smartphones and TV screens with the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Flyod, and others who have been harmed as a result of police and racial violence. We have watched in horror as Black Americans continue to die from COVID-19 at rates at least two times greater than that of white Americans suffering from the same disease. And as is the case with other crises that have impacted our great nation, we see that it is low-wage and minority workers and businesses that are being hit the hardest.
Tragically, the energy industry is not insulated from gross injustice. The pandemic has presented the sector with numerous challenges ranging from fluctuations in energy demand and staggering job losses, the latter of which has hit Black workers in this sector particularly hard.
According to research, people of color represent more than 32 percent of energy jobs losses while only making up 35 percent of the entire energy industry workforce — that is a near-total loss of racial and ethnic diversity within the sector in the course of a year. Challenges in establishing and retaining diversity are also on full display within the corporate energy ladder — where only 9 percent of board directors identify with a minority group.
The absence of a diverse workforce and representation within the upper echelons of this industry has sweeping implications for communities of color and low-income communities, who are disproportionately burdened by energy production, and the associated energy cost, as well as the human cost of climate change. This is why I am pleased that the House passed my bill, the Blue Collar to Green Collar Jobs Development Act, which would establish an energy workforce development program to bolster education and training for minorities, women, and displaced energy workers at the Department of Energy. This year I was also proud to announce a legislative framework to establish a clean energy economy, which would require the hard work and dedication from Black leaders in the energy sector, like the very people at this summit, to make that vision a reality.
Low-income and minority communities also have little access to the benefits of clean energy or home weatherization technologies that have the ability to lower utility bills, decrease energy burden, and reduce pollution caused by energy generation. As Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy, I recently held a hearing on these very same issues to examine energy justice issues. Dr. Tony Reames, who is a moderator in today’s summit, testified before the Subcommittee to provide expert testimony on this urgent matter.
As this nation acquires new federal leadership, I assert that the active engagement of Black energy thought leaders is essential to the recovery of one of the nation’s most essential sectors. I assure you all here today, that I will exercise the full extent of my power, skills, abilities, and talents to ensure that the practices of the Department of Energy and the energy industry are truly meeting the needs of our community and others whose seat at the table has conveniently, and consistently, been cast aside. This lack of acknowledgment must come to a screeching halt.
Throughout this year, we have observed the essential nature of federally-funded energy assistance programs like the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which have enabled ratepayers and providers to keep the lights on and the cost of heating and cooling homes low. This year I was proud to lead efforts to expand these programs and will remain persistent in the further adoption of these measures.
During my time in Congress, it has also been my mission to strengthen DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and its ability to support minority education institutions and minority businesses to bolster Black representation in energy policy issues. However, I believe Congress must work to push federal government agencies where they should be — in the lead on diversity and inclusion. Achieving this mission will require the full force of the Department of Energy and its program offices.
As the Department also looks to support our nation’s objective in creating a clean energy economy to tackle climate change, which places a disproportionate burden on communities of color locally and globally, it must also empower black businesses — both big and small — so that they may address the vulnerabilities within their communities and throughout this nation. For instance, the Department of Energy is tasked with driving deep energy retrofits within over 400,000 federal buildings through the Federal Energy Management Program, or FEMP. This alone presents an incredible opportunity for existing and emerging Black businesses to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to create jobs for Black Americans within the energy efficiency industry and beyond.
My sights are also laser-focused on invoking the jurisdiction of the Committee on Energy and Commerce to address setbacks in energy industry diversity and to examine private sector practices to enhance diversity throughout the ranks of the industry. Ultimately, you cannot lead where you do not go, and it is paramount that the federal government lead the way on these issues if we are going to create a more robust equitable energy sector and society at large.
In closing, I would like to again thank President Glover, and the members of the association, once more, for welcoming me to today’s summit. As we approach the 117th Congress, I look forward to working hand and hand, shoulder to shoulder with you to sustain our role in the decision-making process and to champion solutions to the inequities communities of color and low-income communities face that are both directly and indirectly related to the sector. Thank you.