Biden announces senior DOE staff

By Lesley Clark | 01/21/2021 07:14 AM EST

The Department of Energy unveiled a senior leadership team this morning, saying it will carry out President Biden’s “vision for bold action on the climate crisis.”

Department of Energy headquarters in Washington.

Department of Energy headquarters in Washington. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Department of Energy unveiled a senior leadership team this morning, saying it will carry out President Biden’s "vision for bold action on the climate crisis."

The team includes two new jobs: a deputy director for energy justice and a director of energy jobs — a nod both to Biden’s pledge to address environmental justice and to his effort to center his climate plan on green energy jobs.

Tarak Shah. Photo credit: Department of Energy
Tarak Shah.
| Department of Energy

Tarak Shah, who was chief of staff to the undersecretary for science and energy at DOE from 2014 to 2017, will serve as chief of staff, the first person of color, first Indian-American and first LGBTQ person to serve in that position at DOE. He is set to report directly to Jennifer Granholm, Biden’s pick to lead DOE, if Granholm is confirmed by the Senate.


"These talented and diverse public servants will deliver on President Biden’s goal to tackle the climate crisis and build an equitable clean energy future," said Shah, who was the personnel lead for the Biden-Harris transition climate and science team. "Guided by their expertise, breadth of experience, and following the science, these Department of Energy appointees will contribute to creating a clean energy economy that produces millions of good-paying American jobs and safeguards the planet for future generations."

In addition to the Biden-Harris appointees, David Huizenga will serve as acting secretary of Energy, replacing Trump Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who left yesterday as Biden was sworn into office.

Huizenga was most recently associate principal deputy administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration and has been a career employee at DOE for over three decades.

The other DOE appointees include:

Shalanda Baker. Photo credit: Northeastern University
Shalanda Baker.
| Northeastern University

Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy justice

Baker was most recently a professor of law, public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University. She is co-founder and co-director of the Initiative for Energy Justice, which provides technical law and policy support to help communities tackle climate change.

Baker served as an Air Force officer prior to her honorable discharge pursuant to the then existing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, and became an advocate for repeal of the Clinton-era policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a juris doctor degree from Northeastern University and a master of laws degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Vanessa Chan, director, Office of Technology Transitions (chief commercialization officer)

Chan had been the Brassington professor of practice and the undergraduate chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She has spent the past 20 years helping large companies commercialize technologies and revamping the academic curriculum of engineering students to make a greater social impact, according to DOE.

Chan earned her doctorate in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

Robert Cowin, deputy assistant secretary for public engagement

Cowin was most recently director of government affairs for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to that, Cowin worked for the National Environmental Trust, where he helped organize national campaigns focused on climate change, clean energy and clean air. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College.

Tanya Das, chief of staff, Office of Science

Das was most recently a professional staff member on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where she worked on clean energy and manufacturing policy legislation. She earned her doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Christopher Davis, senior adviser to the secretary of Energy

Davis served all eight years of the Obama administration — first in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and then in several senior roles at DOE. Prior to that, he worked for the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. More recently, Davis worked with Co-Equal, a nonprofit organization providing expertise and knowledge to Congress on oversight and legislation.

He is slated to work closely with Granholm, the former Democratic Michigan governor who will be charged with advancing Biden’s aggressive clean energy goals.

Ali Douraghy, chief of staff, Office of the Undersecretary for Science & Energy

Douraghy was most recently chief strategy officer for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area. He led the New Voices program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and received his doctorate in biomedical physics from the UCLA School of Medicine.

Caroline Grey, White House liaison

Grey worked as expansion states director for Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, managing engagement in 33 states. She previously worked for Biden’s one-time Democratic opponent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Grey started her career as an organizer for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and worked on the 2012 Obama reelection campaign. She co-founded Civis Analytics, a data science firm.

Todd Kim, deputy general counsel for litigation and enforcement

Kim most recently was a partner at Reed Smith LLP and before that was Washington’s first solicitor general, serving for more than 11 years. Kim graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an executive editor of the Harvard Law Review, and he received his undergraduate degree in biology from Harvard College.

Jennifer Jean Kropke, director of energy jobs

Kropke served as the first director of workforce and environmental engagement for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 11 and the National Electrical Contractors’ Association-Los Angeles’ Labor Management Cooperation Committee. She focused on creating clean energy, port electrification, and zero emission transportation opportunities for union members. She is a graduate of the UCLA School of Law.

Biden has made clean energy jobs a centerpiece of his plan for zeroing out electricity carbon sector emissions by 2035, and Kropke could play a role in the new administration’s efforts to reach that target through her newly created position.

The 775,000-member IBEW gave Biden a critical endorsement in February 2020, citing his embrace of clean energy technology.

Andrew Light, principal deputy assistant secretary for international affairs

Light has worked on international climate and energy policy for the last 15 years. He served as senior adviser and India counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change from 2013 to 2016, as well as a climate adviser in the secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning.

Light was an international climate and energy policy volunteer for the Biden campaign and was one of the chief architects of Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan for global climate mobilization. He completed his undergraduate work at Mercer University and doctoral work at the University of California, Riverside, and he conducted a three-year post-doctoral fellowship in environmental risk assessment at the University of Alberta.

David Mayorga, director of public affairs

Mayorga most recently served as communications director for District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine (D). He was previously senior spokesperson for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and led communications for DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Mayorga, an immigrant and LGBTQ person, was the first in his immediate family to attend a four-year college. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and began his professional career at the House Science Committee.

Shara Mohtadi, chief of staff, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Mohtadi most recently led the America’s Pledge initiative on climate change and managed grants focused on the transition from coal to clean energy in Asia and Australia at Bloomberg Philanthropies. Mohtadi served as an adviser for the energy and environment portfolio at the Obama White House, in the Office of Management and Budget. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University.

Ali Nouri, principal deputy assistant secretary

Nouri is a molecular biologist and most recently was president of the Federation of American Scientists, which addresses global health and security risks. Prior to that, he served as a Senate staffer to former Democratic Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Al Franken of Minnesota for more than 10 years and served as an adviser in then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s office. Nouri obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College and received his doctorate from Princeton University.

Kelly Speakes-Backman. Photo credit: Energy Storage Association
Kelly Speakes-Backman.
| Energy Storage Association

Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy

Speakes-Backman most recently served as the first CEO of the Energy Storage Association, the national trade organization for the energy storage industry. She has spent more than 20 years working in energy and environmental issues in the private and nongovernmental sectors.

Low-cost, long-duration batteries are likely to be a major component of Biden’s clean energy priorities, and DOE supports research into energy storage technologies through various offices and its network of national labs.

Narayan Subramanian, legal adviser, Office of General Counsel

Subramanian was a visiting research fellow at the Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment at Berkeley Law, leading a project tracking regulatory rollbacks, and served as a fellow at the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy at Johns Hopkins University and Data for Progress. Subramanian holds a juris doctor degree from Columbia Law School, an M.P.A. from the School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University, and a bachelor’s degree in earth and environmental engineering from Columbia University.

Shuchi Talati, chief of staff, Office of Fossil Energy

Talati was most recently a senior policy adviser at the Carbon180 climate NGO, where she focused on policies to build sustainable and equitable technological carbon removal at scale. She also served as a policy volunteer on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. Talati earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, an M.A. from Columbia University, and a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University.

Jennifer Wilcox, principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy

Wilcox was most recently the presidential distinguished professor of chemical engineering and energy policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. Wilcox holds a doctorate in chemical engineering and master’s in chemistry from the University of Arizona and bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Wellesley College.

Avi Zevin, deputy general counsel for energy policy

Zevin is an attorney with experience advancing electricity policies. He was a senior attorney and affiliated scholar at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law and an attorney at Van Ness Feldman LLP.

Zevin holds a juris doctor degree, magna cum laude, from New York University School of Law, an M.P.A. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.