In this episode—the fourth in our ongoing “Big Decisions” spin-off series—guest host and chair of the RFF Board of Directors Sue Tierney talks with Paula Glover, who is currently the president and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and will in January become president of the Alliance to Save Energy. Glover contends that the energy sector needs to not only make it easier for Black and Hispanic Americans to afford their electricity bills, but also provide more opportunities to minority business owners and young professionals. Reflecting on how the results of next week’s elections could influence how she approaches her efforts to shape policy, Glover says that equity should be a priority no matter which party holds power in Washington, and that energy efficiency is an underrated concern that could unite policymakers across the ideological spectrum.
Stay tuned for one more episode in our month-long spin-off series, “Big Decisions: The Future of US Environmental and Energy Policy.” Every Tuesday in October, RFF President Richard G. Newell and RFF Board of Directors Chair Sue Tierney have been sharing guest-hosting duties and chatting with leading decisionmakers, analysts, researchers, and reporters about the big decisions that will impact US environmental and energy policy in the years to come. The final episode next week will be a conversation between Richard and Sue.
Listen to the Podcast
- COVID-19 highlights stark racial inequalities: “What COVID has shown all of us is that, when you start talking about African Americans and Hispanics in this country, the disparities are tremendous and multi-layered. [Across almost] every kind of measure—whether you're talking about health, or wealth, or employment, or unemployment, or access to education, or access to the internet—there are just so many things that feed off of one another.” (8:30)
- Next week’s election will impact energy equity: “It doesn't matter who's in charge. If you're going to do the work, you do the work with whoever's sitting there. Then, you begin to think strategically about how you do that work: Where do you have some commonalities, where do you have some things that you completely disagree on, and who are those coalitions and partners that you need?” (22:36)
- The coronavirus pandemic underscores the importance of affordable energy: “Certainly in this post-COVID world, so many of us are at home. Imagine that person who doesn't have access to electricity, or that person who already has an energy burden who's now at home, or that person who doesn't have access to the internet and has children who are trying to do remote learning. I think the resource that we provide in terms of energy is more important to people day to day now than it ever has been, and … I'm incredibly concerned about what happens to those customers who have not been able to pay the bills for the last year.” (32:05)
Top of the Stack
- The Energy within Us by Joyce Hayes Giles, Carolyn Green, Rose McKinney-James, Hilda Pinnix-Ragland, and Telisa Toliver
The Full Transcript
Sue Tierney: Hello, and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your guest host, Sue Tierney. This episode continues our month-long spinoff series called “Big Decisions: The Future of US Environmental and Energy Policy.” Our regular hosts, Daniel Raimi and Kristin Hayes are taking a well-earned month off. So we'll broadcast this special series in our same Resources Radio time slot every Tuesday in October and return to Daniel and Kristin in November. For this Big Decisions series, we'll have conversations with leading decisionmakers on both sides of the aisle, top analysts, scholars, and reporters to discuss the big decisions that will likely affect US environmental and energy policy in the years to come. Please stay with us.
My guest today is Paula Glover, President and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, commonly known as AABE. Just recently, Paula was announced as the new president of the Alliance to Save Energy. She served on the National Petroleum Council and has experience in industry and solid knowledge and experience in the energy policy realm. Paula, I am so glad that you could join us today. Hello.
Paula Glover: Hello. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Sue Tierney: Well, it's great that you could find some time to spend with us and our listeners.
We traditionally start our interviews with a question to each guest about how or why she found her way into a profession related to energy and the environment. So I wonder if you could share your story with us.
Paula Glover: Sure. It'd be my pleasure. It's probably not particularly interesting. I actually fell into it when I got out of school out of college, and after having a summer off and tripping the light fantastic, as I would say, my mother looked at me and said, "You need to get a job." And so I was temping actually. My first temp job was for a gas company that was about a mile away from where I grew up. I had no idea what went on in that building, and that's really where it started.
I started working there, they hired me full-time and I was working directly with customers who were coming in to pay their bill, negotiating sometimes, turn-ons and turn-offs, a little bit of credit collections, and then had the opportunity to kind of move around into other areas of that company, into community outreach and economic development. In all of that, I actually became familiar with the association that I now lead. And that's what made me fall in love with the industry. Meeting people at AABE who created a tremendous network of support for me, who helped me understand the importance of this business that I had been working in and why it mattered to people and why our work mattered. And probably at that point is really when I made a decision that the energy industry was the industry that I wanted to stay in for my career.
Sue Tierney: I love that. And I love that you started with a lot of practical interactions with the people who pay the electricity and gas bills. That's really a great angle. A lot of people enter from either law or something else, but you saw where the rubber hits the road. That's wonderful.
Paula Glover: Yeah. I often tell people, and I believe this, that it was the most informative job that I've ever had, or I believe I ever will have. When you sit across the table from a customer, particularly one who's having a really difficult time and they have to almost share their entire life with you to get you to do the right thing for them, you just think about everything else you do after that. You think about it differently.
Sue Tierney: That's really lucky in some sense that you have that lens. I was just looking at some data recently about the percentage of a household's income that's spent on either gas or electric or water service and people below the poverty line, it's just extraordinary how much of a burden it is.
Paula Glover: Yeah. Energy burden is such a tremendous problem that we have. Just a very short story, because this is a customer that I remember very early, probably the first year and a half of my working. A young woman who, at that time, was probably about my age, so about 25 or so, had three small children all under the age of five. She had taken this bus to my office to pay a bill and to kind of make a payment arrangement, and it was really right after Bill Clinton had enacted Welfare Reform. And that meant that her benefits had been significantly cut. She wasn't working and all she could really pay was about $5 a week. Really, after showing how much she was getting from the state, how much he was getting in food stamps the whole night, it was all she had—$5. Even though she probably had a bill that was probably $300 a month.
She would take the bus with these three kids, 45 minutes each way, just to give me the $5, just to demonstrate and prove that it wasn't that she didn't want to pay. It was that she just didn't have any more that she could give me. And oftentimes when I talk about policy with policymakers, I always keep her in mind. I would describe her as my “why,” because until you meet someone who is in that situation, you don't really fully appreciate how many families struggle, that she was not unique. So many families in this country struggle in the same exact way to just make sure that they can have heat and hot water and refrigeration and lights and all the basic things that we all expect to have.
Sue Tierney: Wow. What an experience for you. And here we are in 2020, and you're now at the helm of AABE, the American Association for Blacks in Energy. I've always thought of AABE as such an incredible forum for black people in what's basically a white-dominated industry around the country. And AABE has been really great in supporting professional development, education, diversity, and inclusion issues for Blacks in the field, in addition to advocating for other energy issues just more broadly. So what are you hearing from your membership in this election year in terms of policy priorities or other things that they're looking for?
Paula Glover: I think for my members, we're always just thinking about what does affordable mean? We do, as an association, a really good job of trying not to necessarily pick sides—but think about what is best for the communities that we are advocating for. We spend a lot of time educating ourselves on all the different viewpoints so that we're not picking a side, and that we're not just limited to what we know about the businesses that we each individually work in, but that we understand our collective businesses, and also the impact that those businesses have on our communities environmentally as well as economically.
In this year in moment, where so much has been focused on kind of the inequalities that we see, particularly as it relates to Black and brown people in this country, we are even more singularly focused on making sure that the policy decisions that are made have them in mind in a very real and deliberate way. When we start to talk about equity, we really need to understand what should the baseline be, and then how do you move people to kind of that ground baseline level before we start helping move other communities beyond that. It's a little bit tricky sometimes, but it's really, really important.
I think what COVID has shown all of us in this country is that when you start talking about African Americans and Hispanics in this country, the disparities are tremendous and they are multi-layered and they're in not all walks of life, but in every kind of measure, if you're talking about health or wealth or employment or unemployment or access to education or access to the internet. They're just so many things that feed off of one another in a way that it's just important for us as a membership. My members are really focused on what is it that we can do in the space in which we work to really have meaningful change? That's the first thing.
The second thing is another focus on how do we make sure that there is economic empowerment in our communities, and that our industry is doing all that it can to offer opportunities for our business owners, to offer opportunities for our young people and our students, to support our professionals and develop and increase the pipeline of individuals who can become leaders in our organizations and serve on our boards. Really imagining what it would look like if we had full representation of all of our communities, in this business that we work in and how that could really, I think, propel us forward if we did that well.
Sue Tierney: In some sense, for several years, many people in our industry have begun to say, "How can we address equity, diversity, and inclusion?" But 2020 has really accelerated and intensified people's interest in ensuring that there's opportunity and economic empowerment for communities of color. You just talked about that. I wonder if you can give us some ideas about what you're seeing your members do in order to actually make that meaningful change. Can you give us a couple for instances?
Paula Glover: Yeah, sure. For instance, I think for many of my members, it really starts with us having the ability to be fearless in a way that we've never had to be in terms of having really difficult conversations. For example, we, Sue, as you probably know, have an annual convention every single year. This year we had to do it completely virtual, but we've started out talking about race in the energy industry. That's not a conversation that we even as an association of African American professionals has ever had. Talking about what does it mean to be black in this business and what are the challenges that we face and how do we navigate our industry in a way that maybe others don't have to. And not only just to share those stories, but also to say, "How do we do better and what are the pipelines that we can develop and what are the support systems that we can create if they don't exist? And how do we better support one another?"
Paula Glover: There's a collective recognition that these conversations are really, really difficult, but they're also now—in 2020—unavoidable. We can no longer keep our professional lives and how we show up at work separate from the social things that are happening in our communities, to our families, to our friends, to our neighbors. We are affected by all of it as we all are. For us, we just need to be a little bit more courageous and be able to speak up. And then quite frankly, help our colleagues, our Caucasian and other colleagues be able to have those same conversations, because at the end of the day, we're all trying to, I believe, arrive at the same place.
Sue Tierney: I agree. Those conversations are absolutely challenging and so important. I was in a conversation in an organization that's been trying to have really authentic conversations about race and relationships in a workplace, not to mention in society more broadly. And some white person said, "This is very uncomfortable." And a young black woman said, "Well, welcome to my world. Every day, I have to deal with being uncomfortable and being made to feel like I can't be myself." I won't forget that ever because it's so important for getting a sense of what it's like to be in the other person's shoes. So thank you for sharing that.
Let me pivot for a minute, because I know that this past summer, virtually, AABE sponsored a book reading by authors of a new book that's called The Energy Within Us. I happen to own this book. I got it because a good friend of mine, Rose McKinney-James, is one of the five co-authors. And this is a story, as you know very well, that's about five, really accomplished black female executives and what their story is like and so forth. I got to work with two of those co-authors as part of the Obama-Biden transition team at the Department of Energy these 12 years ago, and that was Rose McKinney-James and Carolyn Greene. I just have been so impressed with the two of them for many years.
I'm interested to know what you have learned from these and other inspiring female leaders in this field where you yourself are now a black female professional executive that so many women look up to.
Paula Glover: Thank you for that question. Really, I consider myself incredibly blessed and lucky that I know all five of those authors very well, and I consider them friends and mentors. In fact, one of the other authors, Hilda Pinnix-Ragland, was I think the first person that I ever met at an AABE event back in 1992, ’93.
Sue Tierney: That's great.
Paula Glover: Several of those authors, several of those women have literally watched me grow up over 27 years, which is a little scary, but I think they're proud of me, but they've seen me at my best and absolutely my worst professionally and personally.
I think what I've learned from them is really the importance of creating a support system for yourself, no matter what that looks like; you want to surround yourself with people who you trust enough to tell you the truth, especially when you don't want to hear the truth. That's important—that you're going to have a kitchen cabinet if you want to describe it that way, but I call it my tribe. The tribe of people that I know when they tell me something that I really don't want to hear, I still value that opinion; I value it incredibly highly and to the extent that I need to take their advice and I do take their advice. I think for all of us, as women, as people, it's really important to find those people.
With my own career, my goal was never another job or a promotion. My goal has always been to make the person who gave me the opportunity proud of the work that I did. And if I made them proud, I was actually really pretty incredibly happy about that because more times than not, I really wasn't quite sure if I could do it. It was just that they thought I could do it, that I said, "Well, if Hilda thinks I can do it. I guess I can do it. So I better get about the business of making sure that she can look back at that decision and say, “Wow, I'm glad that that was the right decision. I knew she could do it and look at how she has stepped up.”
The other thing, I think, is that there is no competition between us. One person, one woman's success is all of our success, and we should be cheering each other on, through every single success and then supporting one another through every disappointment. There is no place to lay blame or no one to lay blame on, but that it's always, we're filled with teachable moments. We always have to figure out, how we are going to pivot and change and adapt because we know that things are not going to go the way that we want all the time. We just know that.
The last thing would be making sure that we are constantly thinking about other people and being empathetic, whatever it's religion or faith, and I don't think that matters, but these were five women who were always thinking about somebody else and trying to support somebody else when they need it. Just because that's the right thing to do and doing the right thing is more than enough of a good reason.
Sue Tierney: Well, thanks to AABE for putting out their stories and to you for sharing that experience. Everything you just said resonates with me so much personally, especially the people gave you opportunities and you weren't sure you're going to be able to do it, but you wanted to make sure that you could make them proud. So thank you.
Paula Glover: You're welcome.
Sue Tierney: Let me turn to your own podcast that you've had at AABE and it's called Always Bet on Black. I just love that name.
Paula Glover: Thank you.
Sue Tierney: In case our listeners don't know about it, could you just describe a couple of your favorite moments and then we'll get back to politics.
Paula Glover: Sure. We're going to leave the hard stuff, the fun stuff for last.
Sue Tierney: Right.
Paula Glover: I think this is the best part about the team that I have at AABE is that I can literally have a mild ranting of an idea and they coalesce and make it happen, which is what happened with the podcast. It was literally me being shut down and starting to listen to podcasts that my son had recommended and saying, "You know what? I think I'd like to have a podcast." And they said, "Okay, we're going to put this thing together for you." And so I've enjoyed it.
The podcast is actually... We have a series that drops on Tuesdays that's really a rebroadcast of our summer series, Wednesdays with Dave that we did over the summer, which has all different types of industry related topics from pandemic, economics, to infrastructure and the like. On Thursday, Always Bet on Black is just conversations that I get to have with leaders in the industry about their journey, about how they think about life. And so my favorite moments, and I think when people listen, they can tell. There's always a point in time in a podcast where you can tell that it's just me and whoever it is that I'm interviewing and then we're just talking.
Sue Tierney: Yes.
Paula Glover: We're just talking about stuff. Those are my favorite parts because in this beginning set of series, I'm actually talking to people that I know fairly well. So I started with Chris Womack, who I've known for many years. Last week, I talked with a gentleman by the name of Barrett Hatches, and he and I have been friends for 20 years. And so every single person drops a nugget.
One of the authors from The Energy Within Us, Telisa Toliver, talking about what does it mean to be a black woman, and this idea of feeling like you're constantly trying to prove yourself in a way that your colleagues don't have to. And so I think for me just getting to learn from them and hoping that the people who are listening are learning from them as well, even if they're not learning the same things that I'm learning. That we all have these journeys and there's always something that you can glean from someone's journey and from someone's story. And, and because I love stories and... Anybody I meet, I'm trying to get a story out of them, “Tell me something about you.” This podcast is just an extension of that.
Sue Tierney: Well, this medium is really wonderful because people do get a chance to almost just listen in on... They're not intimate conversations, but they're really personal conversations, as you say. And I have learned so much from many different podcasts these days. And so congratulations on that work.
Paula Glover: Thank you so much.
Sue Tierney: Let me turn to the moment's big drum roll, the presidential election. Most of the people that I talk with lately tend to lay out three conceivable potential outcomes of this election in Washington. Number one: the Democrats control the White House and both Houses of Congress. Number two: there's a split outcome. One party controls the White House and the House of Representatives, and the other the Senate. And then three: President Trump has secured a second term. Democrats continue to hold the House and Republicans continue to hold a slim Senate majority. So when you think about those different possible outcomes, how do you see AABE's work evolving under each of those possible scenarios? And how can AABE and other organizations that advocate for underrepresented communities tailor their efforts, given those potentially very different outcomes in Washington?
Paula Glover: Yeah. I would say, I think the first thing that I would offer is it doesn't matter who's in charge. If you're going to do the work, you do the work with whoever's sitting there. And then you begin to think strategically about how you do that work and where do you have some commonalities and maybe where do you have some things that you completely disagree on and who those coalitions are that you need, or the partners that you need.
And so quite frankly, in the last election, 2016, we had a lot of conversation about if Donald Trump wins the election, what does that mean for the organization and how do we move forward and who do we work with? And we really made a deliberate decision to say, “Well, if that's the hand you're dealt, then that's the hand that you play.” And that you don't refuse to work with someone because ideologically, we don't agree on everything. I think there's always areas that we can agree on.
I would like to believe that people are trying to get to the best outcomes, even if the tactics that we utilize may be different. If things stayed status quo, which means that the president wins reelection, Republicans retain the Senate, and Democrats retain the House, then I think as an association, we start to think about if there's an infrastructure bill, how do we ensure that our communities are fairly represented in that? It doesn't mean that we give up pushing on environmental issues, because I think we have to continue that, but you got to think strategically about where are those coalitions and how do you frame that messaging so that you bring some more folks along and maybe even broaden the group of people that you work with.
The same would be true, though, if we have a President Biden, and the Democrats control the Senate as well as the House. I think as an organization, while it certainly would seem to be far more favorable to the policies that we are pushing forward, I'm still incredibly worried about equity. And so, I want to make sure that top of mind are those who I would describe as “the least of us.” And that means that some clean energy policy may not work for those communities, or there may be increasing opportunities for those communities, but we have other gaps in education and other items that we need to fill.
And so again, you need to figure out who are the right coalitions, understanding where their priorities are. And I think particularly when you work in Washington, it's important to know who the people are, and not who the newspaper says they are, because those can be oftentimes very different things. I think when you get jammed up with what it says in the press or on Facebook or on Twitter or whatever, or our own personal kind of ideologies, it makes it very difficult to do the work with those who are positioned to help you and our policymakers. And so you do have to bifurcate those things and then take a look. A reading of the room, as you know, Sue, when you work in Washington. Who's there, who's not there, who can I influence? And if I can't influence this person, who do I know who can, who may have like-minded ideals, and press forward.
For us as an organization, every single scenario we have to plan for, but we have to do the work with whoever's there and understand where they are and then endeavor to help them understand where we are. I feel like President Obama had a really successful administration, but that doesn't mean that every policy that his administration supported, we supported. But it did mean that we needed to at least communicate with them if there was a policy that we did not support or partially not support, or what have you, the why. Why did we feel the way that we did? And is there a way for us to get to a place or solution that we felt as an organization will be beneficial to those communities that we're trying to support and just provide the education? Because that's the best that as a 501(c)(3) we can do, is to really provide an education on what does it mean for real people and people who just are struggling every day already. We have the energy burden that we have, because I would say in some part really bad policymaking. And so we just got to do better about how we establish policy, if we don't want to make the burden any greater. And certainly we have to do better if we're trying to lessen it.
Sue Tierney: Well, I love that principled and practical answer to my question. Let me pick up on two things that you mentioned in that response, and that's economic stimulus and equity. I'm really going to direct your attention to a post-January world, when you will be starting a new job as president of the Alliance to Save Energy. I've loved that organization for many years. I used to serve on the board, and it's just like a little engine that could in many ways, and it's played such an important role in federal congressional policy making on energy efficiency. And there's now talk about the possibility of a clean energy economic stimulus package, and that there might be appetite for a big play there. I thought it would be useful to hear about your views about how energy efficiency should play into that and how it links up to the equity agenda in particular.
Paula Glover: Sure. I think energy efficiency, quite frankly, is the sector that gets left out. In my mind, using less is always better than using more of something else. And it doesn't matter whether it's fossil or clean—what we want is for people to be able to use less. And so I'm really hopeful that with any administration, but particularly if we have a new one, that we're able to get people to see that when we start talking about climate, if we want to start talking about moving to renewables, if we want to start talking about removing carbon from fossils, what have you, as it relates to our industry, we absolutely should be asking ourselves: how can we be more efficient first? How do we use what we have better? And how do we help people use less of it? And then, what are the systems that are required, or the gaps that make it impossible for people to access what's available to them now? And we have a lot of challenges and gaps in terms of people being able to access what's available to them now.
And I think the other piece is about not only not picking sides, but thinking about who it is that you're trying to help and why you're trying to help them. Oftentimes, we can all, myself included, kind of get lost in our own silo about what we believe is the right thing and why it's the right thing. What I'm hoping with the Alliance and the partners that the Alliance has is that we can step out a little bit and maybe get some feedback from some others and understand what their priorities are and how do we fit into supporting those priorities. Because I do think that there are lots of win-win scenarios, but it just takes a little bit more time sometimes to get to the win-win. But I think it's possible.
Sue Tierney: Well, energy efficiency has always struck me as a win-win. You get so much payoff for each dollar spent there. And if the dollars are spent in low-income households in particular, it's just a win-win.
Let me ask you now the “Top of the Stack” question. This is the question that concludes every one of the Resources Radio interviews. And we ask our guest to tell us: What's on the top of your stack? You can think of that figuratively. What are you reading right now, or what are you watching on TV or listening to related to energy or the environment, democratic process, or anything that you find interesting that you'd like to share with our listeners?
Paula Glover: I think there are two things at the top of my stack. One is energy-related, and one is, I think, democratic process. At the top of my stack, quite frankly, is not necessarily the outcome of the election, but it's the level of participation in the election. I'm really watching closely and I'm really interested to see how many of us as American citizens show up this year in this election. I have always been a little disappointed that we don't participate in elections the way that we should. And then we are mad at the outcomes. That's just one of those things that I think is a stick in my craw. It really bugs me. But I think the energy thing that I'm really interested in—I've been doing some reading and research about is this idea of energy justice, because it is that intersection between energy, the environment, social justice, and community collaboration. What does that look like, and how can we as industry professionals make that happen?
Certainly in this post-COVID world, we are all at home, or so many of us … I shouldn't say we are all at home. Many of us are lucky that we get to work from home. But if you can imagine that person who doesn't have access to electricity, or that person who already has an energy burden, who's now at home, or that person who doesn't have access to the internet and has children who are trying to do remote learning … I think the resource that we provide in terms of energy is more important to people day to day now than it ever has been, because we are all home and staying in place in many cases. And therefore, if we think about the moratoriums that we've had on utility shutoffs, and we'll probably continue to have through next spring, when you have the regular winter moratorium, I'm incredibly concerned about what happens to those customers who have not been able to pay the bill for the last year. What's going to happen to them next May?
I know that we have regulators who are thinking about: What are we going to do? And companies that are thinking about the revenue that they were relying on, which was going toward capital projects and other things that they had committed to do. And so, there's an intersection between energy and social justice that I'm increasingly been doing a lot of reading about and am really interested in, in trying to figure out, quite frankly, not only for the association that I lead now, but the association that I will lead next year: What role can we play in that larger conversation? And how can we lead in that conversation? Again, because as I started this interview, I am so much more interested in what is the impact that we can have on communities, and certainly those who are suffering the most.
Sue Tierney: Well, Paula, thank you. I am sure that the AABE community is so sad to see you go. You've been just an amazing leader for them.
Paula Glover: Thank you.
Sue Tierney: I know that the Alliance to Save Energy is really excited that you're going to be there and I know that you're going to do great things for that little organization.
Paula Glover: Thank you.
Sue Tierney: Congratulations and thank you for joining us today.
Paula Glover: Thank you so much for having me.
Sue Tierney: You've been listening to Resources Radio. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you have a minute, we'd really appreciate you leaving us a rating or a comment on your podcast platform of choice. Also, feel free to send us your suggestions for future episodes.
Resources Radio is a podcast from Resources for the Future. RFF is an independent nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Our mission is to improve environmental energy and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. Learn more about RFF at rff.org. The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the podcast guests and may differ from those of RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. In fact, RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals. Resources Radio is produced by Elizabeth Wason, with music by Daniel Raimi. Please join us next week for another episode.