Black History Month – Hazel O’Leary

February 24, 2021

As February comes to a close, we wanted to take an opportunity to celebrate Black History Month and reflect on the countless individuals who have driven and grown the renewable energy sector. One particularly noteworthy Black woman we’d like to highlight is The Honorable Hazel O’Leary. With an early career in criminal law, O’Leary created a reputation as a progressive, environmentally conscious do-gooder. She even served as the executive vice president at a Minnesota public utilities power company.

In 1993 as President Bill Clinton was looking to fill the position of the seventh U.S. Secretary of Energy, O’Leary was a natural choice. She was unanimously approved by the Senate and became the first woman and first African American to hold the role.

O’Leary’s values aligned well with the Clinton administration’s commitment to a greener United States. She pioneered the end of nuclear testing in the country while also championing policy that put funds toward renewable energy research. She was also the first Secretary of Energy to have worked in electric utilities.

One of her most impactful legacies was her commitment to diversity and inclusion within the renewable energy sector. For example, she initiated the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, which works to engage minorities in STEM through federal programming.

[blog post originally published February 2019]