The air in Port Arthur, Texas, smelled like sulfur. It stung the nose of 7-year-old Shalanda Baker, a city girl spending a summer with her father in the Gulf Coast refinery town.

The murky-brown Gulf of Mexico also “carried a stench,” Baker, a Northeastern University law professor, writes in her new book, Revolutionary Power, “but my dad and the other men dipped their nets and lines, in search of shrimp, crab, and fish, into the oil-slicked waters.”

Her late father’s hometown helped form Baker’s worldview: that electricity is the next big civil rights issue. That idea launched a career that took her from Japan to Mexico and from Hawaii to Boston, where she co-founded the Initiative for Energy Justice at Northeastern to include people of color in the fight against climate change. Now, it’s taken her to Washington, D.C.: Baker, 44, was recently appointed the U.S. Department of Energy’s deputy director for energy justice.

The new frontier of environmental justice, though, might not look exactly like Port Arthur. Instead, it could be a town in the shadow of a wind farm. That’s a surprising insight from Baker’s academic work and a challenge in her new job: to bring forgotten voices into conversations about energy — not just about fossil fuels, but about wind and solar energy as well.


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