Justice on the Journey to Clean Energy

Project Team

Team selfie.
Members of the team visiting covered swine waste ponds (Photo: Jon Choi)

Frontline Communities Resist Sacrifice on North Carolina’s Clean Energy Altar

Team profile by Maya Arora, Chloe Brenner, Jon Choi, Isabella Delgado, Erin Fleck, Zoe Gabrielson, Ren Kamakura, Lauren Kobayashi, Coral Lin, Ryke Longest, Grant Lyerly, Lee Miller, Robby Phillips and Kendall Wimberley

Each year, the United Nations’ climate report predicts a bleak future if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. For its part, North Carolina has set a goal to reduce 70% of carbon dioxide emissions in electric power production by 2030. However, the state has many options to achieve this goal. The transition to a carbon-free North Carolina could strengthen democracy and prioritize racial and social justice, but if the state fails to engage with its communities meaningfully, it risks perpetuating the legacy of racist policies such as indigenous removal, Jim Crow laws, redlining and Black land loss.

Communities of color and low-income communities, also known as "environmental justice" communities, are disproportionately affected by both the climate crisis and the policies enacted to address it. For example, using swine waste biogas to offset emissions from fossil fuels can increase energy bills for low-income communities and create pollution hotspots in the same areas due to antiquated swine waste management technology. Without significant reforms, North Carolina's efforts to address climate change will only exacerbate existing racial and economic inequities.

The state’s current efforts to engage the public on issues of transportation, environmental permitting, and in the development of its Carbon Plan have failed to center or even meaningfully consider community voices. Community members, especially from North Carolina’s most vulnerable communities, should have power over decisions that will affect their lives and the future of our state.

In August 2022, our team of undergraduate, graduate and professional students and faculty began our research into the stakeholder processes that developed the 2022 North Carolina Carbon Plan. Our community advisory board expressed that the unjust and uncomprehensive stakeholder processes resulted in a similarly inequitable carbon plan that will exacerbate current conditions. Further, these stakeholder processes set an inadequate precedent for engaging with and implementing community feedback for the ensuing cycles of the Carbon Plan every two years.

Our team’s study of the Carbon Plan stakeholder processes yielded two sets of insights. First, we produced a report documenting the fundamentally flawed stakeholder process associated with the Plan’s development and eventual approval by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. We will post our report on the Duke Climate Justice website during Summer 2023.

Second, in order to empower community members participating in these processes in the future and support facilitators in creating more empowering stakeholder processes, we drafted a Stakeholder Participation Bill of Rights, built with the principles and ideals established by a wide range of sources from environmental justice leaders, organizers, and policymakers. This Bill of Rights guides the criteria of our Stakeholder Participation Scorecard, with which stakeholders and prospective facilitators can assess the degree to which a given process is truly inclusive, equitable, effective and just.

Our 2022-2023 team comprises five undergraduates, three master’s students, a law student, two Ph.D. candidates, and Duke Law faculty members Ryke Longest and Lee Miller. We come from a wide range of backgrounds from all over the country, each bringing unique skills and perspectives to this work. Our community advisory board is composed of environmental justice leaders from eastern North Carolina and throughout the state. This project was only possible due to their time, hospitality, guidance, edits, feedback and support throughout the process.