Environmental Justice Clinic Strikes New Ground in the Energy Justice Movement

BY:  
CREATED:  

Image of a cityscape

As academics, advocates, and policymakers navigate the transition away from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources, and policies emerge within this transition, stakeholders are debating how to include issues of equity into energy planning.

Marginalized communities, those historically and presently disenfranchised by inequity, who feel the impacts of climate change most acutely, have emphasized the need for justice in the creation of energy policies. To meet this urgent demand, Miami Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic, building on the environmental justice and climate change movements, is collaborating with community partners, such as the Miami Climate Alliance, to further the “energy justice” movement. The Miami Climate Alliance is a coalition of organizations and individuals working towards climate justice in South Florida.

“Communities need clean energy sources, sources that are not only accessible but are held in the hands of communities,” said Alexander Zastera, an organizer at Miami Climate Alliance. “A just transition is a transition that ensures that power shifts back to the people.”

Energy justice refers to the goal of achieving equity in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on marginalized communities. The movement seeks a just transition that centers on the concerns of communities and aims to make energy more accessible and cleaner, and most importantly, democratically managed for all communities.

“Energy justice cannot and should not be separated from environmental justice and climate justice. Energy policy must acknowledge the ways that environmental hazards and climate-impacts harm communities,” said EJC intern Kristina Thoren, a second-year law student at Miami Law.

“A just transition is one away from the fossil-fuel economy to renewable technologies in an economy that provides sustainable livelihoods, democratic governance, and ecological resilience,” said EJC intern Taylor Hill, a second-year law student at Miami Law. “This transition must also remediate burdens on those historically harmed by the energy system.”

Hill and Thoren, along with their colleague, Daniel Geller, are conducting policy research at the federal, state, and local level to identify and provide solutions to address legal barriers communities may face in achieving energy justice.

Students are exposed to how Miami views and is addressing issues of energy justice by getting out into the community, including attending the monthly City of Miami Climate Resilience Committee meetings; participating in relevant meetings, workshops, and events; taking part in national climate change conversations; and collaborating with relevant experts.

One specific example is the students’ participation in the Clean Energy Working Group, a coalition of organizations striving for equity in energy policy in South Florida. The group seeks to develop innovative, community-based policy solutions that provide accessibility of power/energy, allow for community governance, and incorporate equity into energy planning to ensure a just transition.

Due to COVID-19, thousands of Miami-Dade County residents face utility shut-offs from services such as gas, electricity, and water. One goal of the Clean Energy Working Group is to ensure that communities have access to available resources when navigating a potential shut-off.

“It is essential that community members have resources to help guide them through getting the assistance they desperately need,” said Kelseah Pierre, digital organizer at Miami Climate Alliance. “Without this assistance, people will literally be left in the dark.”

Read more about Miami Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic