Environmental Justice Clinic Focuses on Creating Equitable Weatherization in South Florida

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Due to continuing emissions of heat-trapping gases, the Earth’s climate is warming at an unprecedented rate, leading to widespread, severe impacts for societies, economies, and ecosystems. As is always the case, marginalized communities are the first to suffer. In Miami-Dade County, ground zero of the climate crisis, communities are already battling a more significant number of extreme heat days, more destructive storms and hurricanes, and more intensive flooding.

And there is no place for refuge. The current infrastructure in marginalized communities is not prepared to face the effects of more brutal and worsening disasters. Failing A/C units, cracked foundations, and mold-filled walls are some of the issues afflicting low-income households in Miami-Dade County.

As temperatures rise and storms rage, marginalized communities are calling for weatherization, the process of protecting infrastructure from the elements. In a recent survey of Miami residents, 100% of respondents reported that they would make energy-efficient improvements if they had financing options available. The most significant motivators include rising energy costs and combating climate change. Yet, there is a growing divide between those who can weatherize their homes and those who do not have access to the tools or funds necessary to do so. The Environmental Justice Clinic at Miami Law is addressing this urgent need.

The EJC has partnered with People’s Environmental and Economic Resiliency Group, a nonprofit law firm in Miami committed to sustainability and resiliency. P.E.E.R. Group, in collaboration with Catalyst Miami, launched the Equitable Weatherization Clinic to focus on creating equal opportunity for access to weatherization services in historically marginalized communities.

“Equitable weatherization — rehabilitating and retrofitting affordable, accessible, energy-efficient, and resilient housing — is vital for long-term resiliency,” said EJC intern Catherine Dremluk, a second-year law student at Miami Law. Benefits of weatherization include protecting homes from natural disasters, improving energy efficiency and health, and mitigating local carbon emissions.

“Improving the infrastructure of homes can alleviate asthma symptoms, improve indoor air quality contaminant concentrations, including mold and dust, and benefit overall physical and mental health,” said EJC intern Jonathan Dickler, a second-year law student.

Equitable weatherization is an opportunity to meet community needs by enhancing access to energy-efficient and resiliency improvements, particularly for households within marginalized communities subject to immense energy burdens that put both health and housing security at risk. By reducing energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency and storm protection, weatherization mitigates local carbon emissions, which helps alleviate the harshest consequences of global warming felt along racial and socioeconomic lines.

“In addition to facilitating energy savings and mitigating local greenhouse gas emissions, weatherization also preserves Natural Occurring Affordable Housing, helping to prevent displacement,” said Theresa Pinto, president of P.E.E.R. Group. “Miami households face the second-highest housing cost burden in the country, which means that on top of paying an exorbitant amount in energy bills, people are also spending a significant portion of their income on rent and home payments,” said Pinto.

Weatherization can mitigate these burdens by lowering home costs while also enhancing housing quality and health, such that clients can retain their homes and access safe, affordable housing.

“The Equitable Weatherization Clinic serves as the bridge between clients and existing weatherization services. We work to address the unequal distribution of access to services by identifying barriers to weatherization and developing solutions,” said Abigail Fleming, practitioner-in-residence at the EJC. “This year, we plan to raise $5 million to support the work of Equitable Weatherization Clinic, including equipping 200 households with solar panels.”

For the EJC, these resiliency improvements are just one strategy of facilitating a just transition in South Florida. “The EJC is seeking to shift existing legal tools and practice areas to advance a just transition by identifying their limitations and developing frameworks to reimagine the role of the lawyer in the energy justice movement,” said Fleming.

Read more about Miami Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic

Read more about Miami Law’s Environmental Law Program