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Power to the People: Distributing the Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition Through Equitable Policy, Legislation, and Energy Justice Initiatives

By Alexandria E. Dolezal. Full Text. 

The transition to renewable energy may be accelerating, but the path to a clean energy future is still littered with potential inequities. This reality has become increasingly evident in the early 2020s as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated injustices within the existing energy system, leaving many low-income and minority communities struggling to pay for essential utilities. Moreover, marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by the negative externalities of the energy sector, such as air pollution and climate- change-induced natural disasters. Recent events, like the Texas power crisis and unprecedented heatwaves in 2021, have brought these issues into sharper focus, while equally underscoring the critical need for reliable and affordable energy access for all, along with targeted policy and legal solutions.

While recent legislative proposals have emphasized the need to tackle the climate crisis and create a clean energy future, many of those who have been most impacted by the economic and social turmoil of the last two years will not benefit equally from such developments unless special care is taken to roll out “green” infrastructure in a manner that focuses heavily on promoting energy justice. Prior attempts by state and local governments to mitigate energy justice issues have consistently revealed disparities in the distribution of the benefits of renewable energy technology to marginalized communities; a trend that must be reversed as we strive to build a more equitable energy future.

This Note provides a roadmap for law and policymakers as they work to address these gaps and find solutions to energy justice issues that promote equitable access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy. To this end, this Note highlights pitfalls and successes within existing energy justice initiatives and identifies hazards that must be avoided during the ongoing energy transition so as to reach energy justice goals. It ultimately recommends that states enact legislation that generates and allocates funds directly towards addressing energy injustices, either through the adoption of carbon trading systems, or a dedicated “systems benefit charge” to ratepayers. Additionally, this Note describes the important role that the federal government and recent legislative initiatives could play in addressing energy justice issues, as well as their ultimate shortcomings.