Summary: Energy justice refers to the goal of achieving equity in both the social and economic participation in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on those historically harmed by the energy system (“frontline communities”). Energy justice explicitly centers the concerns of marginalized communities and aims to make energy more accessible, affordable, clean, and democratically managed for all communities. The practitioner and academic approaches to energy justice emphasize these process-related and distributive justice concerns.

Energy justice connects to, and builds upon, the deep scholarly and grassroots traditions of the environmental justice and climate change movements.1 Those involved in the movement for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy often frame energy justice, energy equity, and energy democracy as a part of a broader “just transition” to a low-carbon regenerative economy that will remedy the injustices of the fossil-fuel energy system and extractive economy across multiple sectors.2 Advocates engaged in just transition work, through the leadership of the Climate Justice Alliance and the support of Movement Generation, have adopted the following model to reflect their efforts.

Diagram 1: Movement Generation Just Transition Framework 3

Energy justice (also referred to as “energy equity”) is integral to the just transition, as it addresses fairness and equity concerns within the current, extractive energy system, and incorporates aspects of “deep democracy,” cooperation, and regeneration that feature in the just transition frame. Energy justice has several dimensions, including:

  • energy burden, which refers to the expense of energy expenditures relative to overall household income;4
  • energy insecurity, which refers to the hardships households face when meeting basic household needs;
  • energy poverty, which refers to a lack of access to energy itself;5 and
  • energy democracy, the notion that communities should have a say and agency in shaping their energy future.6

Issues of racial, economic, and social justice are not new aspects of political discourse in the United States; however, their nexus with issues of energy and the environment is a relatively recent phenomenon. Furthermore, the focus on “equity” within the energy justice frame indicates that policy approaches should work to level the playing field for those long disadvantaged under the existing energy system, rather than simply provide for “equal” opportunities for all under the new system.

Diagram 2 illustrates the framing of energy justice within the broader movement for a just transition, as well as how the component parts of energy justice fit together.


Diagram 2: The Goals of Energy Justice


Energy justice closely connects to terms familiar to both practitioners and scholars in the field: environmental justice and climate justice. Environmental justice emerged in the early 1980’s as both an activist practice and field of scholarship in the wake of damning evidence that communities of color often faced disproportionate environmental burdens, and that the suite of recently passed environmental laws did little to protect such communities from environmental harm.7 Eventually, in response to a mounting body of evidence produced by activists8 and academics alike,9 in 1994, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12898 directing federal agencies, to “the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law . . . make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States. . . .”10 Although some scholars have questioned the efficacy of the environmental justice movement, as well as its utility as a policy tool,11 others have noted the importance of relying on the environmental justice movement to inform the current transition away from fossil fuels.12 In any case, environmental justice spawned the climate justice movement, which addresses the acute climate change issues facing communities of color and working class communities.

While environmental justice might be seen as more of a domestic, United States-centric, movement focused on local concerns,13 climate justice is decidedly global in scope. The movement emerged in the late 1990’s and 2000’s in light of the recognition that climate change would disproportionately affect those in the Global South, who did very little to contribute to creating the problem of climate change in the first instance.14 Around the world, those with the least ability to respond to the impacts of climate change—the poor and people of color, including island nations and indigenous peoples—would bear the brunt of its effects. In the United States, climate justice advocates broadly recognize that the poor and people of color in this country will suffer the deepest impacts of climate change, given legacies of legalized segregation, redlining, and disinvestment that have left communities of color and the poor on land and in economic circumstances that make them the most vulnerable to climate change  . Moreover, such communities lack the economic resources to easily “bounce back” from climate change related events.15

High water marks of the climate justice movement include:

  • 2010: The creation of the People’s Agreement in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010, where participants called for the creation of an International and Climate Environmental Justice Tribunal with the legal capacity to “prevent, judge, and penalize States, industries and people that by commission or omission contaminate and provoke climate change.”16 The People’s Agreement was the product of the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth after the disastrous 2009 United Nations meeting in Copenhagen to address climate change;
  • 2014: The People’s Climate March organized by activist groups, where 400,000 people gathered in New York City to center “the leadership of Indigenous communities, communities of color, and working-class white communities” in the climate movement;17 and
  • 2019: In the summer of 2019, a coalition of environmental justice organizations and national organizations aligned to create an “Equitable and Just National Climate Platform” which set forth a “bold national climate policy agenda” to advance “economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice.”18 The Platform calls for a commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius through the mobilization of community, government, science and research, and industry resources “toward the development of just, equitable, and sustainable long-term comprehensive solutions” that “acknowledge and repair the legacy of environmental harms on communities inflicted by fossil fuel and other industrial pollution.” 19 The Platform further argues for new leadership to “advance solutions in ways that meaningfully involve and value the voices and positions of [environmental justice communities].”20

Both environmental justice and climate justice weave together the requirements of procedural and substantive (or distributive) justice. In the case of environmental justice, key principles of the movement include fair distribution of the burdens of development, and involvement in all aspects of “the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”21 Climate justice proponents, on the other hand, argue for policies that address the disproportionate burdens that will be borne by vulnerable communities due to climate change, even going so far as to argue for distributive justice in the form of reparations.22 Further, as noted by the Climate Justice Alliance, actual climate justice requires that voices of communities of color, indigenous peoples, and the working-class be placed at the forefront of discussions concerning climate.23

Energy justice emerges from this rich history. As Eleanor Stein elegantly summarizes, the general view of scholars is that an energy just world involves equitable sharing of benefits and burdens involved in the production and consumption of energy services.24 It is also one that is fair in how it treats people and communities in energy decision-making.25 Further, key concerns of the field are:

  • issues of access,
  • distribution of harms,
  • fairness of energy decision-making to ensure that decisions do not infringe on human rights and civil liberties, and
  • informed participation.26

Sections 1.1 and 1.2 provide an in-depth review of the conceptual underpinnings of energy justice theory and practice. Diagram 3 illustrates the environmental justice, climate justice, and energy justice movements, as well as the primary claims within each. As the diagram reflects, the movements and analytical frameworks are rooted in similar ideologies and goals. Moreover, they run on parallel and overlapping paths.

Diagram 3: Movements for Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, and Energy Justice     

The following Section discusses how “energy justice” and the range of terms associated with it are used in practice as well as in academic circles (mainly social scientists and legal scholars). Before that discussion, however, we offer a synopsis of terms used in this section and the sections that follow:


Frequently Used Term Definition
Climate Justice Remediation of the impacts of climate change on poor people and people of color, and compensation for harms suffered by such communities due to climate change.27
Energy Burden Amount of overall household income spent to cover energy costs.28
Energy Democracy The notion that communities should have a say and agency in shaping and participating in their energy future.29
Energy Insecurity “The inability to meet basic household energy needs” 30 due to the high cost of energy.
Energy Justice (and Energy Equity) The goal of achieving equity in both the social and economic participation in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on those by the energy system.
Energy Poverty A lack of access to basic, life-sustaining energy
Environmental Justice Recognition and remediation of the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on communities of color and low-income communities.31
Just Transition A transition away from the fossil-fuel economy to a new economy that provides “dignified, productive, and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance; and ecological resilience.”32

Section 1.1 – Energy Justice in Practice

In Framing Energy Justice: Perspectives from Activism and Advocacy, Sara Fuller and Darren McCauley interrogate energy justice in the context of activist and advocacy movements, seeking to illuminate for the scholarly community the ways that energy justice is defined by those on the ground and the communities that experience the direct impacts of the energy system from “cradle to grave.” The authors observed “energy justice on the ground,” and found no consistent, “single energy justice frame.” Instead, they found “the existence of multiple and diverse mobilizations around energy justice[,]” and localized expressions of justice. Rather than attempt to explain practitioner and advocate approaches to energy justice using tools designed by scholars, this Workbook acknowledges the unique perspectives and understandings of energy justice as defined by those engaged in the work on the ground. This expertise, grounded in the lived experiences of advocates, provides an invaluable perspective to inform equity-centered energy policy.

Our Approach

Summary: We reviewed the public-facing statements of practitioners and advocates engaged in advocacy work around energy policy. We also met with frontline leaders and organizations engaged in energy policy efforts. With a few notable exceptions,33 practitioners and advocates tend to rely less on “energy justice” and more on terms like “energy equity” and “energy democracy” in their work. Although the terminology differs, the usage commonly focuses on frontline-led approaches to energy policy that center the economic, social, and health concerns of marginalized communities.

Our Survey of the Field

Energy justice mirrors the distributive and procedural justice demands of the environmental justice and climate justice movements, and encompasses several goals including:

  • Transitioning the power and control over the means of energy production into the hands of the community,
  • Ensuring fair and equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of energy production activities, and
  • Centering the concerns of marginalized communities.

To gain an understanding of existing community-based approaches to and understandings of energy justice, we relied mainly on a review of advocacy statements concerning “energy justice.” Our own experiences working with frontline organizations around the country also informed our understandings of energy justice practice. Our approach to understanding what was happening in the field began with a simple, internet-based search to cast a wide net for activist groups using the terms “energy justice,” “energy democracy,” or “energy equity” in their mission statements. The search was then narrowed to groups that specifically defined these terms in a way that creates a framework for their mission. Additional sources were found by looking at sources cited in academic papers about community activism and energy justice frameworks. Another key search method was working from a list of known organizations based on past association with the authors of this Workbook, which helped to fill in gaps in regional representation.

Originally, our search included only those organizations that specifically used the term “energy justice” in their work. However, many advocacy groups favor the phrase “energy democracy” when talking about issues pertaining to developing energy transition frameworks with a social and environmental justice focus. We then expanded the search to include this terminology, as well as the phrase “just transition,” which is also used to describe the transition away from an extractive economy to a regenerative one. The use of these terms – energy justice, energy democracy, and just transition – provides much the same frame for advocacy groups as the phrase “energy justice” provides for academic investigations. The resulting list, further discussed in Appendix B, represents a nation-wide survey of U.S. organizations. 

Our own experience in the field mirrors what we found in the written material. As a whole, practitioners and advocates at nonprofit organizations we work with don’t use the term “energy justice” in common practice, but show general receptivity toward it. This includes individuals we know in different regions around the country, including the South, Northeast, Midwest, and West. Some advocates occasionally use the term energy justice themselves, and others are part of alliances that have member organizations within their alliance that use the term. Some colleagues use the term “energy justice” interchangeably with a “just energy system,” while others use “just energy” but not “energy justice.”

Many of our partners use the term “energy equity” in a way that is either entirely or substantially interchangeable with how we define energy justice in this Workbook. Some practitioners use the term equity when talking about energy, though not necessarily “energy equity” as a phrase. For example, some use specific phrases such as “equitable deep decarbonization” and “equitable energy system.”

Despite the work of organizations clearly falling under the umbrella of “energy justice,” this term is almost never used in their mission statements or writing. Generally, the word “justice” is used only to incorporate a social, racial, or environmental justice approach to the energy transition framework, rather than to aid in the development of a new framework specifically for the just energy transition. Therefore, while activist groups are clearly contributing to the dialogue on what achieving energy justice looks like, they are currently not working with the vocabulary utilized within the academic community. This disconnect threatens the efficacy of scholarship to reach practitioners, and could lead to broader confusion concerning the meaning of energy justice among policymakers.

“The disconnect between practice and academia could lead to broader confusion concerning the meaning of energy justice among policymakers.”

Prevalence of “Energy Democracy”

With respect to our analysis of practitioner approaches, the term most often used to describe the missions of organizations engaged in equity-based energy policy work is “energy democracy.” Based on our research, it seems that “energy democracy” is especially favored among groups in the U.S. advocating for a community-empowerment component to energy transition activities. The use of the term “democracy” within the U.S. context could serve two strategic purposes within the movement.

First, energy democracy might portray the importance that involvement from the community plays in these groups’ vision for just energy systems. It is clear that these organizations feel that justice in energy generation, distribution, and transition activities will be achieved only if the decision-making power and control over the systems lies in the hands of the community affected by that system.34 A way of accomplishing that goal is by putting that system under democratic control and allowing for social and economic participation in that system. Further, as emphasized by Denise Fairchild and Al Weinrub in Energy Democracy, “deep democracy,” meaning, centering the engagement of poor people, people of color, and groups traditionally marginalized within energy transition policy discussions, goes further than mere economic and social participation in the energy system.35 Under the Fairchild and Weinrub analysis, energy democracy requires not only basic participation in the design of the new energy system, but a deeper structural transformation of the social and economic structures underpinning the energy system.36

The second purpose of using “energy democracy” could relate to the long, and frequently problematic, history of the term “democracy” in the American context. Democracy is a core value in American political and social systems, and linking this concept, which evokes feelings of patriotism and equity, to the energy transition movement is likely to yield more positive outcomes than linking the movement to “social justice” or “racial justice”, which can evoke a more negative, or polarized, response. The use of patriotic phrasing could therefore be strategically important in policy advocacy efforts, where public and political support is crucial.37

Groups using the term “energy democracy” tend to include the following concepts of community empowerment in their work.

  • Community Ownership: the community owning and controlling the sources of energy production;
  • Community Decision-making: community having a democratic say in the means of energy production and distribution; and
  • Power Decentralization: Empowerment of those closest to the means of production, geographically, socially and economically.

These concepts indicate a desire to redistribute economic and political power away from centralized energy producers to smaller subsections of society. Advocates press for meaningful community involvement to eradicate many of the inequalities and injustices that currently plague the energy system, such as the disproportionate ecological, economic, and social harms that currently affect low-income communities and communities of color.38       

A significant number of nonprofit professionals we work with also use the term energy democracy. Most appear to view energy democracy as meaning something at least slightly distinct from energy justice or energy equity. Some view energy democracy as a component within a larger frame of energy equity. More specifically, some view energy democracy as focusing on ownership of distributed generation, while energy equity considers the entire energy system, including utility-scale generation and transportation energy. Others consider energy democracy as describing the tangible objectives within the broader, intersectional vision of energy equity.

While energy democracy appears to be the most commonly used term among those working at the intersection of equity and energy, many use energy equity to mean something slightly broader in scope than energy democracy: using energy policy to actually center the concerns of those harmed by the existing energy system. Some advocates either use or resonate with energy justice as perhaps a more holistic and compelling frame.

In the advocacy sphere, advocates place less emphasis on a uniformity of terminology describing the work than scholars of energy justice and, appropriately, more emphasis on the outcomes associated with the work. What is echoed among all of the groups we reviewed is a desire for upheaval in the current energy system, a shift towards more democratically controlled systems, and a new emphasis on social inclusiveness and equity.

“What is echoed among all of the groups we reviewed is a desire for upheaval in the current energy system, a shift towards more democratically controlled systems, and a new emphasis on social inclusiveness and equity.”

Advocates are also concerned about the impacts of the energy system and focus on the following key concepts:

  • Equitable Distribution of Benefits and Harms: Equitable distribution of both the benefits and harms of the energy system, which again relates to alleviating the pressure that currently disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color;
  • Economic Benefits: Some groups believe allowing frontline communities to economically benefit from the new energy system could remedy many of the social issues currently being experienced by such communities39 and lead to social and political empowerment through job creation, and local control of economic resources. Moreover, improving energy efficiency can lower the overall cost of living.
  • Decreasing Pollution: Other distributive concerns include limiting pollution to decrease negative health impacts.
  • Centering Frontline Voices and Control: Another method of ensuring this equity is by putting the power in the hands of the people most affected by the decisions.40 The idea is that these groups will be most motivated to responsibly manage the benefits and risks of energy production and distribution.

These distributive and procedural justice frames are echoed throughout the social science and legal literature as well.

Section 1.2 – Usage of Energy Justice in Social Science and Law   

In general, practitioner and advocate approaches to energy justice make explicit references to centering the voices of low-income communities and communities of color, as well as recognizing the important role of equity to remediate prior harms experienced by communities within the existing energy system. Academics approaching energy justice have tended to take a more measured approach. In general, scholars of energy justice have hewed more closely to procedural and distributive justice concerns; until recently, the predominant discussions of energy justice have not included an analysis of the historical harms faced by certain communities.

As with the practitioner approaches to energy justice, within both the social science and legal literatures, a range of terms have emerged under the broader umbrella of energy justice: 

  • energy justice,
  • clean energy justice,
  • energy equity,
  • energy democracy,
  • energy insecurity,
  • energy burden, and
  • energy poverty.

Social scientists favor energy justice, energy democracy, and energy insecurity. Legal scholars have a much less well-defined approach to the energy justice, and have used a range of terms including all of the foregoing terms as well as clean energy equity, energy poverty, and energy burden.

On the whole, policymakers and advocates seeking key takeaways for an “applied” policy approach to energy justice rooted in robust scholarship will find the literature rather thin and somewhat unhelpful. Much of the literature of the past several years has focused on questions of definitions, rather than application within a policy context. The legal literature provides a bit of an exception to this, as legal scholars tend to focus on key policy areas such as net energy metering, community solar, and regimes designed to meet state renewable portfolio standards; however, the legal literature lacks a consistent framework or analytical approach to apply energy justice across the various areas of energy policymaking. This Workbook aims to close these gaps by synthesizing the literature and various theoretical approaches to energy justice. The Workbook then combines these approaches to fit within a workable frame that draws on the practitioner framework, social science framework, and legal frameworks available at the time of publication. This section provides a synthesis of the three approaches to energy justice: practitioner, social science scholars, and legal scholars. We provide a comprehensive overview of the social science and legal literature in Appendix A.

The following chart summarizes the terminology and usages across areas of practice and research.



Social Science


Energy Justice

Infrequently used


Infrequently used

Energy Equity


Not used

Infrequently used

Clean Energy Justice

Not used

Not used

Infrequently used

Energy Democracy




Energy Burden



Infrequently used

Energy Insecurity

Infrequently used

Infrequently used


Energy Poverty

Infrequently used

Not used

Infrequently used

Equitable Deep Decarbonization

Infrequently used

Not used

Not used

Equitable Energy System

Infrequently used

Not used

Not used


Our research reveals that there are substantial overlaps among the three analytical frames: advocacy, social science, and law. Despite some overlap in terminology, however, the more complex question is how the diverse usages of these terms are used by each group, and whether these usages are contradictory. The following discussion addresses this question.

Section 1.3 – Unpacking the Approaches to Energy Justice: A Synthesis

Each analytical frame—advocacy, social science, and law—emphasizes procedural justice and distributive justice:      

  • Procedural justice concerns who is at the decision-making table, and whether, once at the table, everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Distributive justice is outcome focused, and speaks to whether all equally share in the benefits and burdens of the energy system.

Despite these similarities and shared understandings, the analytical frames differ in two key ways: (1) the scope of energy justice and its connection to related “justice” concepts and (2) the centering of traditionally excluded voices in energy policy. Each difference is addressed below.

What is the scope of energy justice and how does energy justice connect to related “justice” concepts?

Each analytical frame raises questions regarding the scope of the energy justice umbrella. For example, given the focus on the procedural and distributive justice dimensions among energy justice, environmental justice, and climate justice, how do the terms and approaches connect? Does energy justice simply build on environmental justice and climate justice principles, and therefore stand apart as a distinct approach to designing energy policy? Or, does an energy justice approach to energy policy explicitly incorporate the principles of each framework? Further, regarding the scope of energy justice, how do the concepts of energy poverty, energy democracy, and energy insecurity factor into an energy justice policy framework? And finally, is “just transition” a broader conceptual frame that incorporates energy justice, or does it stand alone as an analytical frame?


Energy justice cannot be separated from environmental justice and climate justice. The complex lived experiences of marginalized communities reveal an interconnectedness among environmental, climate, and energy justice that would seem to require that energy policy acknowledge the unique ways that environmental harms and climate-related harms affect frontline communities. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has identified low-income communities of color residing in the L.A. basin as among the most impacted environmental justice communities in the country; they house hazardous waste clean-up sites (Superfund sites) in disproportionate numbers.41 Such communities also face disproportionate risks to climate-related events, given that, for a number of reasons, community members lack the mobility in the face of climate-related weather events. Further, in addition to the well documented energy burden faced by such communities, power outages uniquely burden such communities given that they are unable to “bounce back” as quickly from events that damage food and medicine supplies. Energy justice requires an exploration of these multiple layers of burden faced by frontline communities in the approach to energy policy design.     

Frontline communities rely on the “just transition” framework to illustrate how to transition away from the current, fossil fuel driven economy to a new, regenerative one that honors workers, “redresses past harms, and creat[es] new relationships of power for the future through reparations.”42 Further, as the Climate Justice Alliance notes, this broader framing ties directly to the unique histories of the environmental justice and climate justice movements.43 Just transition “represent[s] a host of strategies to transition whole communities to build thriving economies that provide dignified, productive and ecologically sustainable livelihoods; democratic governance and ecological resilience.” 44 From a policymaking standpoint, therefore, energy justice, as a mechanism to help facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels, must be considered within a broader holistic frame that acknowledges, at the very least, the rights of workers to access jobs in the new energy economy.45 Diagram 4 below illustrates the interconnectedness among these “justice-related” concepts within a synthesized frame. 

Diagram 4: Connections among Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, and Energy Justice

Whose voices should be centered in an energy justice approach to energy policy?

The second key difference among the analytical frames is the emphasis on whose voices are centered in approaches to energy justice. The social science literature has evolved to include the idea of restorative justice within its analytical frame, which would seem to suggest that an energy justice-based approach to energy policy would require the acknowledgement of prior harms to low-income communities and communities of color. Legal scholars have generally avoided the deeper equity analysis, and focus instead on equitable access (for the energy poor), energy burdens, and fairness (as an approach to distributed energy generation). The practitioner framing of energy justice unequivocally centers the voices of those who have been the most harmed by the current energy system, and also takes an equity-driven approach.     


A synthesized perspective of energy justice requires not only that traditionally excluded voices become a central part of the energy policy conversation, but that they are first in line to receive the benefits of policies adopted to facilitate the energy transition. This approach draws heavily on the activist orientation to energy justice and also incorporates both the “recognition” and “restorative” justice angles of the social science literature. It is also consistent with a “fairness” based approach to law and policy.

Section 1.4 – Approaching Energy Policymaking 

As the foregoing discussion illustrates, the procedural justice and distributive justice principles that animate both the energy justice literature and field of practice draw heavily on movement-centered approaches to environmental justice and climate justice, as well as the epistemic traditions of environmental and climate justice scholarship. Further, the movement and principles associated with energy justice are situated squarely within a broader “just transition” frame. Finally, the voices and concerns of traditionally burdened groups are centered in thinking through policymaking approaches. 

This synthesis gives rise to additional questions for stakeholders engaging in energy justice policymaking: How should stakeholders approach energy justice, and what types of outcomes should energy justice produce?

Procedural justice requires that traditionally excluded groups, frontline communities, and those otherwise marginalized due to the energy system work with policymakers to co-create and co-design a fair process for inclusion in energy decision-making. This requires an analysis of the process used to create new energy policy as well as the procedural justice dimensions reflected in the policy.

The distributive justice dimensions are much more difficult to discern, and ultimately require stakeholders to evaluate policy efficacy along racial and socio-economic dimensions. Energy policies should therefore be empirically evaluated regularly for efficacy along such equity dimensions.

In sum, when evaluating policies through an energy justice lens, policymakers, communities, and academics should ask:     

  • Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support? Factors for consideration include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • Convenience of the meeting for frontline attendees, including location (e.g., proximity to public transportation) and time (e.g., outside of customary work hours, with multiple opportunities to participate);
    • Communication of meeting time and location to frontline leaders and community groups;
    • Provision of relevant and clear information to sufficiently evaluate the proposed policy and program;
    • Financial support to frontline advocates to defray the cost of participation in process (e.g., payment to assist with intervention in a regulatory proceeding); and
    • Childcare support during meeting.
  • Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system?
  • Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?
    • A key consideration here includes an evaluation of whether the policy allows for ownership and control of energy assets by communities at the frontline of pollution and climate change, working class people, indigenous communities, and those historically disenfranchised by racial and social inequity.
  • Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities?
    • A factor to consider is whether the policy considers benefits and harms in other non-energy areas (e.g., gentrification and displacement), including for future generations.
  • Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?

The Energy Justice Scorecard provided in the next Section operationalizes this energy justice framework into a tool that can be used to evaluate existing energy policies as well as inform the approach to a proposed energy policy. The Scorecard presented reflects a number of qualitative indicators; however, advocates can further develop the indicators to reflect more context-specific qualitative and quantitative metrics.


1 Shalanda H. Baker, Mexican Energy Reform, Climate Change, and Energy Justice in Indigenous Communities, 56 Nat. Resources J. 369, 379-80 (2016); see also Darren McCauley & Raphael Heffron, Just Transition: Integrating Climate, Energy, and Environmental Justice, 119 Energy Pol’y 1, 1 (2018) (arguing that just transition conceptual frame can unite “climate, energy and environmental [] justice to provide a more comprehensive framework for analysing and ultimately promoting fairness and equity throughout the transition from fossil fuels.”).

2 See Ann M. Eisenberg, Just Transitions, 92 S. Cal. L. Rev. 273, 280-81 (2019) (noting that the term, “just transition” arises in the context of the energy transition as well as the nexus between labor and environmental reform); see Darren McCauley & Raphael Heffron, Just Transition: Integrating Climate, Energy, and Environmental Justice, 119 Energy Pol’y 1, 1 (2018) (noting that “just transition” emerged from the global trade unions in the 1980s). The Climate Justice Alliance frames the “just transition” as a move “away from the global ‘dig, burn, drive, dump economy,’ towards a vision of many local, living, caring and sharing economies.” Our Power Puerto Rico History of the Climate Justice Alliance, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

3 Movement Generation Just Transition Framework Resources, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

4 Diana Hernández & Stephen Bird, Energy Burden & the Need for Integrated Low-Income Housing & Energy Pol., 2 Poverty & Pub. Pol. 5, 7 (2010); Lakshman Guruswamy, Energy Justice and Sustainable Development, 21 Colo. J. Int’l Envtl. L. & Pol’y 231, 234, 255-58 (2010) (framing energy justice as the lack of access to energy by “the other third,” individuals living in Sub-Sahara Africa and Asia).

5 Lakshman Guruswamy, Energy Justice and Sustainable Development, 21 Colo. J. Int’l Envtl. L. & Pol’y 231, 257 (2010).

6 Matthew J. Burke & Jennie C. Stephens, Energy Democracy: Goals and Policy Instruments for Sociotechnical Transitions, 33 Energy Res. & Soc. Sci. 35, 36 (2017); Sean Sweeney, Resist, Reclaim, Restructure: Unions and the Struggle for Energy Democracy, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (Apr. 2013),; Denise Fairchild & Al Weinrub, Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions 1-2 (2017); James Angel, Strategies of Energy Democracy 9 (2016), available at

7 Robert D. Bullard, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha, & Beverly Wright, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty (Mar. 2007),

8 In 1991, delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit adopted seventeen principles of environmental justice that helped to galvanize the grassroots movement for environmental democracy. Reflected in the principles are respect for Mother Earth, an acknowledgment of the fundamental right to “political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples,” and demands for equal participation “at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation” concerning the environment. For a complete overview of the Principles, see Energy Justice Network, Principles of Environmental Justice, Envtl. Just./Envtl. Racism, (last modified Apr. 6, 1996).

9 Robert D. Bullard, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha, & Beverly Wright, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty (Mar. 2007),; Richard J. Lazarus & Stephanie Tai, Integrating Environmental Justice Into EPA Permitting Authority, 26 Ecology L. Q 617, 617-18, 627 (1999).

10 Exec. Order No. 12898, Fed. Reg. 7629 at 1-101 (Feb. 16, 1994), available at

11 Kristin Jenkins, Setting Energy Justice Apart from the Crowd: Lessons from Environmental and Climate Justice, 39 Energy Res. and Soc. Sci 117, 118 (2018) (arguing, among other things, that environmental justice failed to have an impact beyond the grassroots level, and that the concept “lacks defined and recognised content—a structure or approach that can be readily applied at a range of scales in a systematic manner”).

12 Uma Outka, Fairness in the Low-Carbon Shift: Learning from Environmental Justice, 82 Brook. L. Rev. 789, 792 (2017) (arguing that environmental justice can and should inform the transition’s trajectory early to achieve robust integration of the movement’s core principles with the legal and physical infrastructure for a low-carbon energy sector.”).

13 See Kristin Jenkins, Setting Energy Justice Apart from the Crowd: Lessons from Environmental and Climate Justice, 39 Energy Res. and Soc. Sci 117, 118 (2018) (arguing that environmental justice is more of a U.S.-based movement), But see generally Carmen G. Gonzalez, Environmental Justice, Human Rights, and the Global South, 13 Santa Clara J. Int’l L. 151 (2015).

14 Kristin Jenkins, Setting Energy Justice Apart from the Crowd: Lessons from Environmental and Climate Justice, 39 Energy Res. and Soc. Sci 117, 118 (2018) (noting that climate justice emerged “in the 1990s, with a focus primarily on: assisting those affected by climate change; sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change; mitigation and adaptation; and reducing C02 emissions.”).

15 See Generally Reilly Morse, Environmental Justice Through the Eye of Hurricane Katrina (2008), available at; Shalanda H. Baker, Anti-Resilience: A Roadmap for Transformational Justice within the Energy System, 54 Harv. Civil Rights-Civil Liberties L. Rev. 1, 9-10 (2019); see generally Naomi Klein, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists (2018).

16 People’s Agreement, World People’s Conf. on Climate Change & the Rts. of Mother Earth (Apr. 22, 2010),

17 See Our Power Puerto Rico History of the Climate Justice Alliance, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019) (noting that a coalition of activist groups including Climate Justice Alliance, “UPROSE, NYC EJ Alliance, Ironbound Community Corporation, IEN, GAIA, GGJ, and a number of allied national green groups and labor unions” organized the Peoples’ Climate March).

18 A Vision For An Equitable And Just Climate Future, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

19 A Vision For An Equitable And Just Climate Future, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

20 A Vision For An Equitable And Just Climate Future, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

21 Raphael J. Heffron & Darren McCauley, What is the ‘Just Transition’?, 88 Geoforum 74, 74 (2018); Robert D. Bullard & Glenn S. Johnson, Environmental Justice: Grassroots Activism and the Impact on Public Policy Decision-Making, 56 J. of Soc. Issues 555, 558 (2000) (“Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people …with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people…should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences”).. For the comprehensive set of environmental justice principles set forth by the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, see Energy Justice Network, Principles of Environmental Justice, Envtl. Just./Envtl. Racism, (last modified Apr. 6, 1996).

22 Maxine Burkett, Climate Reparations, 10 Melb. J. Int’l L. 509, 521-22 (2009).

23 Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019); see also Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing (Dec.1996),

24 See generally Eleanor Stein, Energy Democracy: Power to the People?, in Energy Justice: US And International Perspectives 258 (Raya Salter et al., eds., 2018).

25 Eleanor Stein, Energy Democracy: Power to the People?, in Energy Justice: US And International Perspectives 258, 265 (Raya Salter et al., eds., 2018).

26 Eleanor Stein, Energy Democracy: Power to the People?, in Energy Justice: US And International Perspectives 258, 265 (Raya Salter et al., eds., 2018).

27 Maxine Burkett, Just Solutions to Climate Change: A Climate Justice Proposal for a Domestic
Clean Development Mechanism, 56 Buff. L. Rev. 169, 170, 192-93 (2008).

28 Aladdine Joroff, Energy Justice: What it Means and How to Integrate it into State Regulation of
Electricity Markets, 47 Envtl. L. Rep. News & Analysis 10927, 10928 (2017).

29 Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, Cecilia Martinez, & Shalini Gupta, Climate Justice &
Energy Democracy: A Platform Vision, Climate Just. Alliance (2015)

30 Diana Hernández & Eva Siegel, Energy Insecurity and its Ill Health Effects: A Community
Perspective on the Energy-Health Nexus in New York City, 47 Energy Res. & Soc. Sci. 78, 78

31 Robert D. Bullard & Glenn S. Johnson, Environmental Justice: Grassroots Activism and the
Impact on Public Policy Decision-Making, 56 J. of Soc. Issues 555, 558 (2000).

32 Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last
visited Nov. 19, 2019).

33 Just Energy Policies & Practices, NAACP, (last visited Nov. 21, 2019).

34 Energy Democracy, Center for Social Inclusion, (last visited April 10, 2019); Energy Democracy: The Big Picture, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, (last visited Nov. 21, 2019); About Us, N.Y. Energy Democracy Alliance, https:// (last visited Nov. 21, 2019); Resources on Energy Democracy, Local Clean Energy Alliance, (last visited Nov. 21, 2019).

35 Denise Fairchild & Al Weinrub, Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions 6 (2017).

36 Denise Fairchild & Al Weinrub, Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions 6 (2017).

37 It is interesting to note that the U.K.-based organization represented in the sample, Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), does not feel the same pressure to avoid using the word “justice” to describe its work. However, “justice” in their context takes on a different meaning from that usually found in social and racial justice movements. CSE uses justice to mean fairness in the distribution of the burden of climate action, specifically that every person must feel like his or her required contribution is fair in relation to the contributions of those around them. This definition lacks the restorative and moralistic angles of justice movements in the United States

38 Energy Democracy, Center for Soc. Inclusion, (last visited Apr. 10, 2019)

39 Just Transition, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, (last visited Apr. 10, 2019).

40Why Energy Democracy?, Soulardarity (2014),

41Los Angeles Area Environmental Enforcement Collaborative, United States Environmental Protection Agency, (last visited Nov. 21, 2019); Liberty Hall Foundation, Drilling Down, The Community Consequences of Expanded Oil Development in Los Angeles (2015),; Tony Barboza, EPA ‘environmental justice’ map highlights California’s pollution ills, L.A Times (June 10, 2015), https://www.

42Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

43Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

44Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

45On its website, Climate Justice Alliance lays out a comprehensive set of Just Transition Principles that include: Buen Vivir (living well without living better at the expense of others); Meaningful Work; Self Determination; Equitable Redistribution of Resources and Power; Regenerative Ecological Economics; Culture and Tradition (acknowledging the harms to culture and tradition enacted by capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, genocide and slavery); and Solidarity. Just Transition, Climate Just. Alliance, (last visited Nov. 19, 2019).

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

1) Tyson, Jon. End Climate Injustice on LED screen. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.

2) Annandale, Riccardo. Man holding incandescent bulb. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.

3) Sophia, Samantha. Crowd of people near concrete buildings during daytime. Unsplash. photos/-VHfqDKgMLk. accessed 5 December 2019.

4) Quepón, Gustavo. Sunflower field. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.