In this Article, we explore and critique the foundational norms that shape federal and state energy regulation and suggest pathways for reform that can incorporate principles of “energy justice.” These energy justice principles—developed in academic scholarship and social movements—include the equitable distribution of costs and benefits of the energy system, equitable participation and representation in energy decisionmaking, and restorative justice for structurally marginalized groups.
While new legislation, particularly at the state level, is critical to the effort to advance energy justice, our focus here is on regulators’ ability to implement reforms now using their existing authority to advance the public interest and establish just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory rates, charges, and practices. Throughout the Article, we challenge the longstanding narrative that utility regulators are engaged solely in a technical ratemaking exercise in setting utility rates. We argue that rate setting is and always has been social policy implemented within a legislative framework designed to promote the public interest. As we explain, when regulators and advocates expressly recognize this fact, it creates new opportunities for the regulatory system to achieve energy justice goals.
Through our reexamination of energy system governance, we evaluate new approaches to advance the public interest and set just and reasonable rates for energy consumers. These new approaches consider system benefits as well as costs, enhance universal and affordable access to utility service, alleviate income constraints on residential energy consumption as an economic development tool, increase equitable access to distributed energy resources such as energy efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar, and enhance procedural justice in ratemaking proceedings. We argue that over the long run, these pathways to a more just energy system align the interests of all system stakeholders by creating community wealth and collective prosperity.