Friday, April 14, 2023
  Community, Around Campus

By News and Internal Communications

By Maria Gonzalez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – APRIL 14, 2023 – On Wednesday, April 12, The Honorable Shalanda H. Baker, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and the Secretarial Advisor on Equity, visited UTRGV to deliver a keynote address on energy justice.

The event, held on the Edinburg Campus, convened more than 130 UTRGV students, faculty and staff eager to learn about the DOE's efforts through the Justice 40 Initiative to advance racial equity, support underserved communities and achieve a just and equitable energy future.

Established by an Executive Order by President Biden, the Justice 40 initiative is charged with making sure 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution. 

The event marked the launch of the DOE Road to Energy Justice, a series of visits to communities across the Rio Grande Valley from Edinburg to Brownsville to Corpus Christi to share DOE funding and engagement opportunities with communities that need it most.

“Today we are kicking off the DOE Road to Energy Justice Tour, right here in the Rio Grande Valley at UTRGV,” Baker said. “But why Texas?

“Because Texas leads energy production; 25 percent of the country's domestic energy production comes from Texas, and much of this is concentrated in this area," she said. 

The Rio Grande Valley in many ways is “the heart and soul of the fossil fuel production that we see in this country,” Baker said. 

The DOE is leading a critical shift to approach the climate crisis through equity-centered solutions that lead to a new energy system that gives everyone – particularly frontline communities – the resources they need to thrive, she said.

Energy Justice and Justice40: Made for this Moment. keynote
More than 100 students, faculty and staff attended the keynote "Energy Justice and Justice40: Made for this Moment." (Photo by Jesus Alferez)

The DOE Road to Energy Justice tour continued Thursday, April 13, from 5 -7 p.m. at Salon Cassia (BMAIN 2.402 ) on the UTRGV Brownsville Campus.

Baker, along with DOE members, City of Brownsville officials and UTRGV representatives hosted a Funding Community Session open to the community to discuss energy and energy-efficiency funding, rebates, and tax credit opportunities that will support the Rio Grande Valley.

“UTRGV's research mission is to create societal impact through basic and applied research and development,” said Dr. Can (John) Saygin, UTRGV senior vice president for Research and dean of the Graduate College. "We are looking forward to working with Director Baker to establish a robust research foundation for energy justice, integrating our current R&D work with this interdisciplinary research theme."

Dr. Cecilio Ortiz-García, chair and professor of the UTRGV Department of Public Affairs & Security Studies, said hosting Baker at UTRGV is an integral part of the development of a new architecture of relationships.

"This, we believe, exemplifies the important role universities play in the face of climate, social, geophysical and other kinds of extreme events that bring about disaster conditions, transboundary crises, and extreme operating environments," he said.

To learn more about today’s engagement session at Corpus Christi, visit


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.