Resources for the Future (RFF) is releasing a new episode in its Policy Leadership Series Podcast, which highlights conversations with leading decisionmakers on environmental and energy issues at RFF’s flagship Policy Leadership Series events. In this episode, RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell sits down with Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Energy, David Turk, to discuss the dual challenges of energy and climate, alongside the Department of Energy’s role in an equitable transition to clean energy.
Visit the event webpage to watch a video recording of this conversation.
Listen to the Podcast
- “The way to think about the Inflation Reduction Act is that it gives a wind at the back in a very diversified way for a whole range of clean energy technologies and a whole range of sectors … One of the key challenges and opportunities for us at the Department of Energy … is we need to take advantage of that wind at the back. We need to take advantage of all of the programs, the tax incentives, the grant programs.” (24:50)
- “We don’t want to just do a clean hydrogen hub. That’s a nice project, but we want to do it in a way that catalyzes the whole of clean energy as part of what helps us decarbonize industry. And likewise for the grid, the [electric vehicle] chargers, all the other areas.” (34:04)
- “Among the other goals that we have … is the equity piece. And making sure that, as we’re building out this clean energy infrastructure of the future, we do it in a way that is fully inclusive, fully fair, and the benefits go to all communities. There have been some communities that have borne the brunt of our energy systems in the past. We need to have special emphasis on those communities, so that more of the benefits of this clean energy transition can happen in those communities that, frankly—from a fairness perspective, from a morality perspective, from a political science perspective, whatever perspective you want to come at it—deserve to have more investment and opportunity for jobs, economic opportunity, healthy air, and healthy water.” (34:53)
- “These bills give us an opportunity not just to decarbonize, but at the same time to make sure that those jobs, manufacturing opportunities, and processing opportunities for critical minerals and beyond happen in the United States and other countries that we’re allied with as well. That’s incredibly exciting, but it’s something that’s going to require a sustained effort and a focus on to make sure that we’re doing that.” (41:50)
The Full Transcript
Elizabeth Wason: Welcome to the Policy Leadership Series Podcast from Resources for the Future. In every episode, leading global decisionmakers speak to RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell about big environmental and energy policy issues. In this episode, Richard speaks to the Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Energy, David Turk. Their conversation took place on August 11.
Richard G. Newell: It's really a pleasure to have you here today.
David Turk: Thanks, Richard. It's great to be with you and with everybody here. And let me give a special shout-out, Richard, for you and your career not only at RFF but also at the Department of Energy (DOE), including leading our Energy Information Agency, which is just an incredibly important part, putting out nonpartisan, independent analysis numbers—and just a special shout-out to RFF for those colleagues who are part of RFF. Thank you for what you're doing: incredible work for many years, putting out terrific analysis. I think my DOE colleagues would agree. Thanks for having me here.
Richard G. Newell: I appreciate that.
For our audience in the room and virtually, I'll take the next 45 minutes or so to engage in conversation. We'll talk about Deputy Secretary Turk's experience and how that influences the way he's approaching his role at DOE. We'll talk about the ongoing challenges with high energy prices. We'll talk about policies and technologies that can help support a clean energy transition while maintaining US economic competitiveness. And we'll also talk about approaches to ensuring that that transition is just and equitable. We'll touch on a lot of different things.
Following that, we'll move to an audience Q&A; for those of you tuning in online, you can enter any questions into the question box at the bottom of your screen. We've also been taking some questions in advance, and I'll weave some of those into our initial dialogue. Lastly, if you want to join the conversation on Twitter, please use #RFFlive.
So kind of where to begin, There's no shortage of things to talk about. There's been a huge amount of news and also work that's been done over the last several months. August is supposed to be quiet, but I think it’s been anything but that so far.
Let's start first on how your background influences how you're approaching your role at DOE, your goals at DOE, your background, both of the US government, but also working internationally in the International Energy Agency, both on climate issues and also energy issues. Give us a sense of how that's influencing the way that you're approaching the job.
David Turk: Thanks, Richard. I've been incredibly lucky and fortunate in my career. I've had some really interesting positions and, hopefully, real-world impactful positions. Certainly, it's an honor of a lifetime to be the deputy secretary at the Department of Energy, especially at this moment where Congress is giving us all sorts of funding and authority to accelerate the clean energy transition.
Secretary Granholm, who's just a phenomenal secretary for anyone who's had a chance to meet her either professionally or personally, the kind of person who is the same in private as you get in public, which is a really strong indicator of her character and her as a person, as well.
A couple of things I'd say: One, early in life, we all have formative experiences. For me, there were a couple that really stick out.
One is that I had the fortunate consequence to live abroad for the first six years of my life. I was born in Ecuador, lived in Chile and in Brazil, and then moved to a small town in Illinois, which I'll get to in a minute. For me, that was incredibly fortunate to have that perspective, even as a little kid. Little kids, for those who have little kids, they pick up on more than we think they pick up. Sometimes they’re little sponges and really useful to get a sense of perspective. As we all grow up, as we all start our careers, sometimes we don't have perspective. For me, especially for the international work that I've been able to do, it's good to be able to see, to empathize, to understand where others are coming from. And so I think that's been very influential for me.
Then, when I moved to a small town in Illinois, it was an agricultural and steel mill community. And the steel mill, as in a lot of small towns and in the Midwest and throughout the country and other places in the world, was basically closing down throughout my whole childhood. That had a real impact on me in terms of what it means when you have those economic challenges. When jobs are being lost, when dads and moms are losing their jobs, families are being put in incredibly tough circumstances—which, again, makes me feel personally very fulfilled to be in a job like this, with the funding, the support, the programs with which we’re able to not only accelerate the clean energy transition but also build out jobs and manufacturing, have the supply chains, and have all the other things that we're talking about on this front because I saw that in my community, and we see that certainly in communities as the president has spoken about so eloquently; Secretary Granholm, as well.
I've had a chance to work in the government: the US government, the State Department; a couple of times in the White House; Department of Energy a couple of times. It’s useful to work in different agencies to understand those perspectives. The job that I held previous to this was at the International Energy Agency, the IEA, a phenomenal organization based in Paris, which was not a bad place to live and work for four years. Phenomenal colleagues from all over the world, working in a multicultural setting, phenomenal analysts—the boss of the IEA, who's one of my mentors and a good friend, Dr. Fatih Birol, a visionary in the energy world, including in the clean energy transition space.
So, I've been open to different opportunities. Luckily I've been able to take advantage of those opportunities when they've come.
Richard G. Newell: We're really lucky to have somebody with such a diversity of experience in that position because, as you know from being at DOE a few times, it does bring together an unbelievable number of different issues, which have only increased in importance over the last year.
One of the things I want to turn to, that is on many people's minds, is gasoline prices and oil prices. It's all over the news today that the retail price of gasoline in the United States dipped down below $4 per gallon. It was as high as $5 per gallon. The price of oil has come down by about $30 per barrel, and that translates directly into lower gasoline prices.
Give us a sense of the actions that the Department of Energy and the US government have been taking on oil. There've been releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). There's been collaboration and coordination with other countries, both consumers and producers, globally. Give us a sense of what actions have been taken and where that stands. Is that finished? Is it midway, and has it made a difference?
David Turk: Thanks, Richard. And since you mentioned Department of Energy and our colleagues there, I have to make a plug. I'll make this at least seven times during the course of this conversation as we implement all this great clean energy transition stuff. It literally is billions, tens of billions of dollars—a huge opportunity space.
We're hiring up significantly. We've got something called our Clean Energy Corps, where we're trying to make it easier for people to get into the federal government, to try to streamline the processes. For those who are interested in being part of the government right now—this historic opportunity of executing on the clean energy transition—please apply. I'll get to that at least six more times in the course of this conversation.
Richard G. Newell: I've heard it’s close to 1,000 people that DOE needs to hire. Is that about right?
David Turk: That's right. As important as the number is—and it'll be at least 700 people—we're trying to do this in a bottom-up way. What are the needs? How do we actually build up the team?
The quantity is impressive, but even more impressive—and I think you can hopefully agree from your time at DOE—is the quality. We've got some phenomenal talent at the Department of Energy already: experts, literally top experts in their fields. But we need more talent. We need diverse talent. We need talent that represents America and has a huge amount of skill set.
Government service is not for everybody, but this is a particularly good time to think about a stint in government, whether you're starting your career or a little further along in your career. We'll do it six more times and make the plug.
So, gas prices. It may be useful to start and put politics aside, especially with an analytically rigorous organization like RFF—there are a lot of politics played on this issue—and actually talk about what caused gas prices to be high, and then what we're trying to do in this administration using the tools that we have to try to help.
What caused gas prices to be high is a combination of two things. One is COVID. Like everything in life the past couple of years, COVID has thrown international energy markets and gasoline, which comes from crude oil. Crude oil is traded globally. It is a global commodity. There is a global price associated with crude oil. It's demand-supply, basic economics 101. COVID threw international crude markets completely out of whack.
There was a time not too long ago—although it seems like decades ago at this point—where demand just plummeted. We all started working and doing school from home and doing a lot less driving. Demand plummeted, and we actually had negative oil prices for a limited amount of time, which had never happened before. People were paying others to take their oil. Gasoline at the pump was incredibly cheap. Oil was incredibly cheap along those lines.
As economies have recovered, the demand has increased, but the supply then went down because the supply was down from that sharp crash. Put simply, supply has not matched up with demand until more recently. COVID has caused a big whack, a big anomaly, in terms of the price of gasoline that we pay at the pump.
Put on top of that Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia is an incredibly large producer of oil and exporter of oil. And the invasion of Ukraine has further thrown international oil markets into some real challenges along those lines.
That's historic to have both of those together. That's why we saw oil prices go up the way we did, and that's why gasoline prices went up at the pump, and they're lower now. We're down to under $4 per gallon. That's great compared to being over $5 per gallon just a month and a half or so ago.
But to answer your question directly: certainly, from this administration, that's too high. That is pain at the pump. It's part of what's driving inflation. We need to drive that down to a level that Americans around the country can afford so that it doesn't impact their household spending in the way it does now.
How did we get from over $5 per gallon down to $4 per gallon? In the federal government, we tried to use every tool that we had at our disposal in order to make progress on that. One that I’ll highlight in particular at the Department of Energy is our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was set up back in the '70s to have a big reserve of oil in the United States so that we could put that into the market if there were a hurricane or other disruptions into the supply and demand balances along those lines.
What President Biden, Secretary Granholm, and the rest of us worked on is putting in place the largest historic release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at this time where demand and supply were not matching up in order to have that be part of the solution, which had some downward pressure on the price at the pump. And we're seeing the SPR, among a number of other things, causing supply-demand to match up more, and that downward pressure is getting us down to less than $4 per gallon.
It’s still not good enough. We're going to work at it. We're going to keep working at the tools and the tool belt, but that is a big priority. As the president has said, it's priority number one to provide affordability for every American across the country.
Richard G. Newell: I think about 120 million barrels have been released since February. Are we midway? Is it done for now? And a quick follow-up on that: Is there any longer-term philosophy? Depleting the SPR and keeping it low? Is that the endgame? I've also read that there are some new ideas for how it might be filled up more efficiently in the future. Give a sense of that longer term, as well.
David Turk: Absolutely, Richard. The SPR is one tool in the tool belt. In and of itself, it's not going to solve the problem, but it is an important tool that we have. It's also useful to point out that it's not just the United States that has reserves. We actually have countries around the world and key allies who have reserves as well.
As we've been releasing oil out of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, we've done that in concert and collaboration with other countries through the International Energy Agency, the IEA. There've been releases of millions of barrels—tens of millions of barrels from other countries around the world that help the global market match up more generally.
What the president did—and this is unprecedented—is make an announcement that we're going to have a six-month bridge of time to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: around a million barrels per day just out of our US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That's complemented by other countries along those lines so that we can get to a point like we're getting to now, where supply and demand match up better, and there's downward pressure on that price.
We talked about it as a bridge. Right now, we're well along that bridge, and we want to make sure that that bridge is as long as it can be, and as and as flexible as it can be, so that we can deal with further challenges as we have them, whether they’re hurricanes or otherwise. We've used the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to deal with hurricane disruptions in the past and want to make sure that's available.
What we need to do is use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when we have extraordinary challenges like we're currently facing and then fill it back up when the price is low. Right now, we're selling it when oil is really high. That is a lot of money coming in. Then, we'll use that money to buy back oil when the price is a lot lower. We get a better bargain on those kinds of things, and we fill it up so that we're ready for the next time.
Richard G. Newell: I want to stick with global energy markets and energy security for a moment and talk about the other gas—natural gas—in contrast to gasoline. Given the state of geopolitics that are shaping and shifting current energy markets, there's interest—including some of our online questions—about US viewpoints and administration viewpoints on global gas infrastructure, especially in countries that have historically relied on Russia for natural gas, including in the European Union, which is connected by pipelines to Russia.
We've got a question that came in from Maya Weber. Maya's the Senior editor at S&P Global Commodity Insights. She asks, "What is the administration's posture towards supporting natural gas infrastructure overseas?" Then the flip side, or other part of the equation, on a related note from Michael Huber, a reporter from Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper: "Are there any plans to expand US liquified natural gas (LNG) refining capacity to help cover energy needs over the short term?"
So, what is happening domestically on natural gas and LNG? And then also global infrastructure outside the United States, and how you all at the Department of Energy and the administration are thinking about that.
David Turk: It’s important to understand as context here: Russia is not only a big exporter of oil onto the global market, but they're also a major exporter of natural gas, especially to Europe. Now we've been talking with our German colleagues for many years, actually, and with others in Europe. Maybe it's not so great—understating it—to be so dependent on one country for such a critical part of your existing energy needs.
Unfortunately, countries made decisions. It's in their right to make sovereign decisions along those lines. Nord Stream 2 may be something that some of you are familiar with. Europe got itself overly dependent on Russia's natural gas.
Now in normal circumstances, it’s relatively cheap coming in, but in a situation and with a country and with a dictator who is willing to use energy as a weapon—and President Putin is using energy as a weapon—that is not good for your own security, your energy security, your ability to heat your homes in winter and keep your businesses with the gas that they need.
In this time of need, where Europe is appreciating that they need to get off of Russia's natural gas and do it as quickly as they possibly can, they're going to need a bridge of their own on the natural gas side of things. And right now, one of the ways that's being fulfilled is US LNG from the United States being shipped over to Europe.
Our natural gas through LNG goes to Asia, to Japan, to Korea, and elsewhere, but a significant percentage of the natural gas to LNG is going to Europe right now, helping the Europeans prepare for the winter—in particular, building up their storage so that they can weather the winter and all the challenges that might be thrown at them. Our US natural gas has been incredibly important for our European allies in this time of need.
Now, the Europeans are also leaning in on the clean energy transition, just like we're leaning in on the clean energy transition, but you can't do that all in the span of a few months period of time to get ready for winter. They've got to do what they've got to do to be prepared going forward.
In order for Europe to accept the volume of natural gas, right now the vast majority of natural gas coming from Russia is coming through pipeline. We do not have a big pipeline from the United States going to Europe. If Europe is going to take US natural gas, international gas from Qatar, or from others, then they need to build out some of their infrastructure in order to be able to import LNG. So there is a need. Germans and others are making some investments along those lines.
US natural gas is playing an important role internationally, no doubt in Europe, but elsewhere along those lines. What we need to be thinking about is making that natural gas in the system to be as clean as it possibly can be. Many of us have spent many years focused on methane emissions in natural gas and the natural gas life cycle. Methane is a super greenhouse gas emitter, even more so than carbon dioxide. We need to make sure there are no leaks. We need to make sure that that's not just being emitted and causing challenge in the atmosphere.
We also need to be thinking about, What's the ultimate play? How do we ultimately get to net-zero emissions, to the kinds of dramatic emission reductions scientists have warned us for many years about, that science is only improving upon. On this front, we need to be thinking about natural gas facilities that are hydrogen-ready so that we can be part of that transition, so that we can lean into that transition.
Richard G. Newell: The United States signed the Methane Pledge last November at the COP, the Conference of Parties. We'll come to that in just a minute.
The Inflation Reduction Act also has some methane provisions in there, as well as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules around methane reduction. What I hear you saying is that both addressing the methane emission leaks to ensure that the gas is as clean as possible, building up European infrastructure, and then, now, the United States is the largest LNG producer now, even larger than Qatar.
In response to one of the questions that came up, the United States is in fact very significantly expanding its LNG capacity currently. It's not even done yet. Does that sound right to you?
David Turk: As with much in the United States, this is private-sector decisionmaking. This is driven by the private sector. What we need to do is walk and chew gum at the same time. We've got some particular energy security challenges right now—Russia, Ukraine, coming out of COVID, the energy balance, the energy imbalance—that we're still working through on that end.
There are certain things that we need to do in the near term to provide affordability for Americans, to make sure our economy is as strong and as resilient as it possibly can be. We can do that and do things like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve release and methane emission reduction and getting more of our LNG over to Europe. At the same time, we can further accelerate our clean energy transition and make sure we're doing everything that we possibly can to have more offshore wind, to have more solar photovoltaic (PV), to have more batteries, to have more onshoring of critical minerals and supply chains.
We have to do both of those, and we can't lose sight of—and this administration has not lost sight of—the historic legislation that's already been passed and the other one that'll be passed shortly from the House. It looks like the House is going to pass the big Inflation Reduction Act tomorrow; we'll wait until they do because it's a different branch of government, but that is a huge deal: tax incentives, other tools, including a lot of funding that goes to Department of Energy to further accelerate the clean energy transition in a way that's good for energy security in the near term, medium term, and long term, but also gets us to climate reductions and the carbon dioxide reductions that we need.
Elizabeth Wason: Each episode of RFF’s Policy Leadership Series Podcast is made possible by listeners like you. This series provides thoughtful conversations with leading experts to better connect and inform our community and the latest environmental and economic issues. And you can help us by supporting RFF. Join us in our mission to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economics research and policy engagement. Learn more about contributing to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support.
Richard G. Newell: The Senate passed, by a 51–50 vote on Sunday, the Inflation Reduction Act. The House is scheduled to vote as soon as tomorrow. I'm presuming that the president would sign it. I guess I shouldn't presume those things, but I–
David Turk: I can guarantee that.
Richard G. Newell: Indicators are that if that passes, the president will sign it. So maybe next week we've got, through the budget reconciliation package, the largest infusion into the US economy ever for funding around decarbonization, clean energy, and also significant elements of domestic economic competitiveness.
It's taking the form of tax incentives for electric vehicles (EVs), for clean power, for residential home retrofits and electrification. Can you speak to what you all are seeing as the biggest impacts of that legislation? And then also speak to DOE's role—what is DOE's role in its implementation? Are there any other ripple effects that influence what you'll be doing at DOE?
David Turk: First, I need to—especially for those in our audience and those online who have been advocating for climate legislation, who have been working for climate legislation in one form or another, whether in the government, whether in an nongovernmental organization (NGO), whether in a company—just give a big thanks. This is a historic achievement. We should all feel incredible pride that democracy here in the United States has worked. We have the biggest, most historic piece of climate legislation that we've ever had in the United States.
I remember the Waxman-Markey days and other attempts and challenges that we've had along the way. $369 billion of investment, all the tax incentives—but there's an awful lot more in the Inflation Reduction Act for those who've looked at the details. Different modelers, and other RFF colleagues who've taken a look at it know something about this, are very consistent with our own internal modeling. This bill will help us along with a lot of other things and get to 40 percent reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. That is an incredible achievement. That is not something that is inevitable. That requires an awful lot of work by a lot of people and a lot of decisions going forward.
Now, is a 40 percent reduction where we need to be? No, it's not. The president has put on the table 50 to 52 percent reductions by 2030. We still have some additional work to do, but 40 percent is a big step going forward. Again, a big thanks to everybody who's worked on that. The legislation will be passed by the House, and the president will sign it.
The way to think about the Inflation Reduction Act is that it gives a wind at the back in a very diversified way for a whole range of clean energy technologies and a whole range of sectors. It's the tax incentives, but there's a lot more in there, as well.
One of the key challenges and opportunities for us at the Department of Energy—where we've got experts on solar and wind who've been pushing these for years and years; we've got folks working on our 17 national labs who've done a lot of the research and development to get us to the point where we have some of these cost-effective solutions—is we need to take advantage of that wind at the back. We need to take advantage of all of the programs, the tax incentives, the grant programs. We got $62 billion additionally in the infrastructure bill that passed late last year. That's the amount that came to DOE to work on clean hydrogen hubs. That came to DOE to build out our EV charging system—$7.5 billion that we're working on hand in hand with the Department of Transportation to build out part of it.
All of these individual efforts have individual wind at the back. Together it's a wind at the back of the overall clean energy transition, and we've got to execute. We've got to make sure that we harness that wind at the back, just like our wind turbines harness as best they can the wind that's blowing across our country, to get the maximum benefit as quickly as we possibly can because we don't have time to wait on that front. But we need more legislation. There's no doubt about that. We need additional work from Congress. We need additional work on execution from not only Department of Energy.
One of the things that I think is not focused as much as it should be is how much we need departments working together and with other key actors out there—whether it's businesses, entrepreneurs, NGOs, or universities—to really accelerate the transition. We work with the Department of Transportation on EV charging infrastructure, which is a critical part to get the EV revolution happening right now, and we need to accelerate it further.
I was just meeting with my Department of Treasury colleague. They'll be doing a lot of the execution on the tax incentives. We were talking about making sure that, as we're doing our big grant programs and demonstration programs—$62 billion—that this dovetails with, harnesses, accelerates, and catalyzes the tax incentives, and vice versa. We'll be spending a lot of time working on that.
Richard G. Newell: I assume what has caught the attention of DOE is that the formulation of the tax credits, which have historically been technology based—production tax credits for wind, investment tax credits for solar—something for carbon capture and storage and for the power sector is that there’s going to be a transition of that approach to being more technology-inclusive: not targeting specific technologies, but targeting the zero-emission nature of those technologies.
From a DOE point of view, what seems to open up the potential and the aperture for new innovations technologies without preordaining that they have to be of a particular type in order to receive these tax credits? That's good news when there's connectivity between the folks at Treasury that are implementing that and the stream of work that you're doing at DOE can then take advantage in a more technology-inclusive way. That seems really important. I don't know if there are any more specific ripple effects there, but that would seem to be a good policy innovation from the point of view of energy innovation.
David Turk: Chairman Wyden from the Senate Finance Committee deserves an awful lot of credit for trying to make sure that we were getting the maximal benefit from these tax credits and doing it very thoughtfully. Some real innovation in terms of that part of the legislation.
What we need to think about is individual technology. Solar PV has been transformative; wind and onshore wind have been transformative. I feel really good about the progress we've made in this administration so far on offshore wind. I think offshore wind is a huge opportunity. We at the Department of Energy have been focused on this for years and decades: floating offshore wind so that we can have offshore wind not just in shallow areas, but in deeper areas, including off the West Coast. That's a game changer, and people will see that more and more as a game changer.
We need to bring all of these together. A couple of areas I'd like to focus on, particularly where we spend a lot of time at the Department of Energy, are on the grid and how we take all these renewable energy resources and put them together to provide the reliable, affordable, consistent, and cybersecure benefits to American people. The grid doesn't get as much attention as it probably deserves to get.
Energy storage is also a critical technology to make sure that we can complement the solar and the wind and make sure it's there 24/7, as we expect our electricity in this country and hopefully around the world for everybody to consistently be.
While we've made a significant amount of decarbonization progress on electricity, we need to focus on transportation—not just on passenger vehicles. And the EV revolution is happening. The latest estimates are that, just in this administration, we've actually tripled the amount of electric vehicles that are sold as a percentage of overall vehicles—less than a two-year period of time. Incredible, incredible achievement. We need to accelerate that even further, which is why we're working on the EV charging infrastructure.
But a lot of industry is known as a harder to decarbonize area. There are some significant tax incentives and other programs in this bill for DOE, working with others and with industry to decarbonize as quickly as we possibly can. Then we need to decarbonize our buildings, whether it's new buildings or retrofitting buildings, and all the appliances that go into those buildings.
As you know, the Department of Energy is the part of the government that focuses on efficiency regulations to make sure our lighting is as efficient as it possibly can be—heat pumps and other kinds of technology areas. So it's incredibly exciting with not only these individual areas, but to try to take the analytical rigor of DOE—informed by RFF and other analyses—to bring it all together so we can accelerate the whole economy and get to our overall goals.
Richard G. Newell: Until the current focus on the Inflation Reduction Act, there was this other tremendous investment in clean energy called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed last November and had about $65 billion in it for activities that would be implemented by the Department of Energy. This was the largest infusion into the Department of Energy since the Manhattan Project, which gave rise to the Department of Energy way back when—so, a very strong orientation toward transition toward clean energy.
This is an amazing opportunity for the Department of Energy and for clean energy innovation—also a tremendous spotlight on the Department of Energy to implement that. While that policy news happened several months ago, in terms of the Department of Energy, this is something that's very important and active right now to get that money out the door with hydrogen hubs, direct air capture hubs, carbon capture and storage.
Could you give us a sense about what you all see as the most important work that you're doing on implementation of that infrastructure law, and go into more detail about the kinds of rules approaches that you're using to ensure that the allocation of those funds are efficient, effective, and equitable?
These are, in some ways, a more complex set of issues that we're dealing with now that clean energy is big energy, and there's attention to community impacts of that. Give us a sense of what's going on there and how the rules are being designed and you're setting up your programs to do that efficiently, effectively, equitably.
David Turk: In and of itself, the Infrastructure Bill—the bipartisan one that was passed late last year—was the biggest thing to happen to the Department of Energy since it was created back into the '70s. Over $60 billion for just DOE; other agencies had some significant amounts of funding covering a whole range of technology areas. You mentioned some. There are others, including a significant amount of money for grids and building out our transmission system. And now, we have some more on grids and transmission in this newest bill, as well.
If you take a look at what that means on an annual basis in terms of what the Department of Energy does on more demonstration deployment further along on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale (for those who know what the TRL scale is about), it's actually three times the amount we would normally spend in a year just from this one piece of legislation, to give you a sense of scale and scope of what this means that Department of Energy can do.
That in itself caused us to need to hire up those additional 700 to 1,000 people to be able to manage all these programs—not just manage all the good governance things and make sure that we're doing them the right way that American taxpayers expect their taxes to be spent, but to get the most catalytic impact.
We don't want to just do a clean hydrogen hub. That's a nice project, but we want to do it in a way that catalyzes the whole of clean energy as part of what helps us decarbonize industry. And likewise for the grid, the EV chargers, all the other areas.
That's why we need really smart people to come join the Clean Energy Corps at the Department of Energy, to be part of this, to bring your creativity, to bring your enthusiasm, and to bring the kind of thinking that we need if we're going to be successful at this historic level of investment the American taxpayers have entrusted to us and the Department of Energy.
Then you put on top of that the newest bill that's going to be passed by the House tomorrow. It's a one-two double punch: either one of those would be the biggest thing to happen to the Department of Energy; put them together, and that's the level of historic opportunity going forward.
Among the other goals that we have, I want to emphasize the equity piece and making sure that, as we're building out this clean energy infrastructure of the future, we do it in a way that is fully inclusive, fully fair, and the benefits go to all communities. There have been some communities that have borne the brunt of our energy systems in the past. We need to have special emphasis on those communities so that more of the benefits of this clean energy transition can happen in those communities that, frankly—from a fairness perspective, from a morality perspective, from a political science perspective, whatever perspective you want to come at it—deserve to have more investment and opportunity for jobs, economic opportunity, healthy air, and healthy water—all those kinds of things that we need to have all around.
We spent a lot of time and focus on that. We've got a phenomenal colleague who we brought in earlier, Shalanda Baker, who's helping to lead that effort in the Department of Energy. There's something called Justice40 that the president kicked off in the campaign. We're implementing that right now, where 40 percent of the benefits of these programs—and I think we have upwards of 100 programs throughout the Department of Energy participating in this—go to communities that have borne the brunt of environmental challenges in the past.
We also need to focus on those communities—whether it's mining communities, coal plant communities—that have been part of the energy infrastructure in our country for many years. We need to keep a particular emphasis there, a jobs emphasis there, and an economic development emphasis there so that everybody benefits from this transition in a real, meaningful way—not just in terms of carbon reduction. It's a huge focus of the entire administration, an absolute top priority for us at the Department of Energy.
Richard G. Newell: Let's dig into that a little bit more. You mentioned the Justice40 initiative, a really important initiative for the whole administration. Each agency has been asked to develop the tools and policies that help ensure that 40 percent of the benefits of actions around the clean energy transition and climate actions go to disadvantaged communities. The Department of Energy has been a leader among agencies in developing tools and metrics because when you want to ensure that the work you're doing is delivering on that, you need to measure things. You need to define things. You need to have tools that can help inform decisions.
Could you give us maybe a flavor of that? I don't know if you have a couple of examples of the implementation of the Justice40 tools that you've designed at the Department of Energy. How are those intended to or going to influence decisions?
David Turk: This is not easy, and it requires a real level of rigor and seriousness and a sense of purpose. Again, I feel really good. And thanks for the nice words, Richard. I completely agree: the Department of Energy is ahead of the curve on dealing with this and dealing with it straightforwardly and transparently with all the engagement with communities. It's not just Washington, DC, and smart people in DC coming up with this. We spend an awful lot of time listening to communities, perspectives around the country—different perspectives. You're going to get a different perspective in one part of the country than you're going to get in another part of the country. You're going to get a different perspective whether you're in a city or whether you're out in the countryside or a small town like where I grew up.
I would just emphasize the rigor that's associated with it. If you're going to be serious about this, you need to measure, you need to have systems in place, and you need to have a sense of shared ownership in place.
One thing that Shalanda and Tony and the rest of the colleagues at the Department of Energy have done a phenomenal job of—it's not just one office that's focused on this, and the secretary and I have made this clear for all our colleagues—is this is a job for everybody. This is not just a nice-to-have. This is a must-have and needs to be a fundamental part of all of these programs that we're doing. It's been incredible to see people who've literally worked 30 or 40 years in a certain technology area having that epiphany moment, where they are getting as excited as anybody else about making sure that there's this equity, this responsiveness to disadvantaged communities in terms of how they design their funding opportunities and how they implement those funding opportunities. You'll see a whole lot more real-world success coming from it, but it's built upon a huge amount of rigor and a lot of work that's gone on.
Richard G. Newell: It's not something that necessarily, historically would've been there: engineers and scientists bringing the equity dimension toward technology assessment, toward the kind of things I do. It's new.
David Turk: It's new, and it's just the right thing to do. What's great is to see people who are technologists and engineers—and we have a lot of those at Department of Energy—get excited and embrace it because I think we all intuitively know it's the right thing to do. It fundamentally needs to be part of how we go about business. It's just got to be an indispensable part of how we do things.
Richard G. Newell: I have one other question I wanted to ask you. It relates to critical minerals and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and also actions under the Defense Production Act. There have been a number of different actions that are being taken around critical minerals, which are very important ingredients in electric vehicles and other types of clean energy, as well as many other parts of the economy.
Give us a sense of the importance of critical minerals to the clean energy transition and what the Department of Energy is doing on that front to help ensure supply chains for critical minerals or other things that are resilient—and we would hope, also, sustainable.
David Turk: This is one of the most exciting areas both in the infrastructure bill, which had a lot of money and focus on critical minerals, including $7 billion for battery supply chains. That's a lot of money to build the batteries for our EVs and the other stationary functions that we need batteries to serve on the grid. But there are a lot of money and tax incentives that are relevant on this. And the critical minerals piece is something that those who focus on these issues and do the modeling and understand the volume of what we're going to need in terms of solar PVs, batteries, wind turbines, magnets, and everything else that is fundamental to our clean energy transition—they appreciate that we need to have reliable, secure, and affordable supplies. That goes to mining. It also goes to processing. Right now, we do not have a diversified, secure source of critical minerals all around the world right now.
China, in particular, has a stranglehold on some parts of the supply chains, especially when it comes to processing. That's not good in terms of our security. That's not good in terms of security for others around the world at this particular point in time and going into the future.
These bills give us an opportunity not just to decarbonize, but at the same time to make sure that those jobs, manufacturing opportunities, and processing opportunities for critical minerals and beyond happen in the United States and other countries that we're allied with, as well. That's incredibly exciting, but it's something that's going to require a sustained effort and a focus on to make sure that we're doing that.
We're doing a lot of research and development at our 17 national labs, in particular, to make batteries out of substances that have more ample supplies and don't have the same bottleneck challenges. There's some really interesting innovation going on in those ways. Can we recycle more so that, when a battery in an electric vehicle goes out of service, we get that back as quickly, cheaply, efficiently, economically, and environmentally friendly as we possibly can? The recycling piece, the materials piece, the lightweighting piece—there's a lot of innovation going on that's relevant in the critical mineral space, as well.
Richard G. Newell: A quick reflection on the past of Resources for the Future, which was established in 1952 coming out of the Materials Policy Commission in the Truman Administration: One of the things that we've learned over the decades is that, when we face resource scarcity issues like we face now with critical minerals, we need markets to do work, to provide incentives for reducing the demand for those by substituting and being more efficient about their use. We need new sources of supply. We need to do that in a diverse way globally, and we need technological innovation to find substitutes. I’m glad to hear the DOE is already on that. It doesn't surprise me.
David Turk: Absolutely. Richard, I have to say, whenever the secretary and I think we come up with a good idea, we bring it to our staff. Inevitably, someone's been working on it for 20 to 30 years at some lab. Maybe it needs to be elevated or funded more, et cetera. It's a phenomenal group of colleagues.
Again, that's why you all who are interested in a job should go to our website and become part of our Clean Energy Corps.
Richard G. Newell: I'll vouch for DOE as a great place to work.
We've covered a huge amount of great territory today. I want to thank you, Deputy Secretary Turk, for a wonderful conversation today. Thank you to the audience both here in person and online. And I want to also thank all of our supporters who help make this possible. It's a real pleasure. Thank you so much.
David Turk: Thank you, Richard.
Elizabeth Wason: That was Richard Newell, president and CEO of Resources for the Future, in conversation with the Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Energy, David Turk. If you like what you heard, remember to like or favorite RFF’s Policy Leadership Series Podcast on your podcast platform of choice, where we will release new episodes with leading environmental and energy policy decisionmakers.
The live event was produced by Sarah Tung, Donnie Peterson, and Justine Sullivan. Music is from Blue Dot Sessions. RFF podcasts are managed by me, Elizabeth Wason, and made possible by you, our listeners. You can contribute to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support. Thank you for joining us.