According to a March 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans favor the U.S. taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050, with 69% calling for the U.S. to prioritize the development of alternative energy, such as wind and solar, and 31% calling for the U.S. to phase out the use of fossil fuels completely. But what is environmental justice, and what relationship does it have, if any, to renewable energy?
Defining Environmental Justice
To the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice is the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” On Earth Day 2022, President Biden announced that environmental justice is about “addressing the disproportionate health, environmental, and economics impacts that have been borne primarily by communities of color – places too often left behind.” The disproportionate impact of environmental harms and ills felt by minorities and people of color forms the driving force and crux of the environmental justice movement that continues to shape federal, state, and local policy in the U.S. today.
A Transition in Reocognizing Environmental Justice
Regulatory agencies, such as the EPA, have not always recognized the disproportionate impact. Notably, a former assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response of the EPA stated in 1987 that the “EPA deals with issues of technology, not sociology.”  Systemic racism in environmental policy has meant that, historically, the formulation of such policy has been premised on notions that “environmental protection is colorblind,” and that the EPA is a “science agency,” not an agency that deals with social issues. Additionally, the eventual recognition of environmental justice has led to what some scholars have referred to as “procedural justice” that solely consists of “more community involvement” and “box-checking exercises” but with “no changes in outcomes.” 
However, a transition is taking place to move beyond these box-checking exercises to collect quantitative and qualitative environmental justice data and display them in a transparent, digestible manner. For example, environmental justice mapping tools CalEnviroScreen and EJSCREEN combine numerous indicator data sets and assist in generating insights about environmental risk and impact that are “critical for decision-making purposes” and shed light on “systemic inequities” and “unfair treatment”—the disproportionate impact on low-income communities and people of color, among others.  In turn, there has been a call for climate solutions that address social and economic inequities and distribute the benefits, and one such solution is renewable energy.
Deploying renewable energy in these historically burdened and under-served communities comes against a backdrop of being subject to environmental racism through redlining and the intentional siting of harmful incinerators, landfills, chemical plants, refineries, and fossil fuel extraction beside these communities. Combined with a lack of resources to hire lawyers to challenge the granting of permits or violation of standards, these communities were left with little to no choice. This situation reflects a concept now known as environmental blackmail, where poor people are forced to choose between unemployment and a job that may threaten their “own health, their families’ health and the health of their community.”  One example of this depleted level of citizen power includes Cancer Alley in Louisiana, where nearly “every household has someone that has died from cancer.”
But is renewable energy the solution? Yes, with strings attached. Renewable energy must be deployed equitably, and this means not harming the same communities and minorities that have been disproportionately subject to environmental harm emanating from siting facilities that are detrimental to human health and communities. Without acquiring consent or participation from communities affected by the adverse effects of renewable energy, these communities will remain in a cycle of abuse that capitalizes on their poor health and cheap labor. 
For example, as wind turbines grow in size, alongside their corresponding effects, it must be asked what impact these will have on the communities that are integrated into—forcefully or consensually. In practice, this means not only assessing effects on the aesthetic pleasure of the landscape or potential damage to a local ecosystem, such as loss to avian creatures, but also wind turbine syndrome, which has been known to cause “nausea, vertigo, tinnitus, sleep disturbance, and headaches.”  As previously mentioned, engaging local communities in a meaningful manner can generate positive community and environmental change. In turn, environmental hazards can be minimized and distributed fairly in proportion to benefits, and protective environmental regulations can be established and enforced with the same vigor for all communities.
One other solution, created from the bottom-up, is the establishment of community energy choice organizations, otherwise referred to as community choice aggregations or community choice energy. These organizations seek to remove the middle-man—the investor-owned utilities—and run community-scale renewable energy projects that decentralize power and reinvest profits from renewable energy generation into local communities.  Examples of re-investment include the development of further renewable energy projects, electrification of local bus networks, energy efficiency programs, scholarships for students, and the implementation of electric vehicle charging stations.
Conclusion: A Just Renewable Energy Transition
Overall, renewable energy—as fantastic as it might appear—is not a solution in and of itself. Environmental justice remains very relevant in deploying renewable energy, and local communities must be meaningfully engaged before decisions are made. Where communities do not or cannot create bottom-up organizations like community energy choice organizations, they ought to be brought into decision-making processes that can benefit businesses, government, and citizens alike. And there is evidently bipartisan support for renewable energy, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans supporting the expansion of solar panel farms (84%) and wind turbine farms (77%), according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2021.
The deployment of renewable energy does not need to be an all-or-nothing approach. Instead, by ensuring sufficient stakeholder and community engagement, the U.S. can enhance its prospects of a just and sustainable transition to a low-carbon economy—to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and meeting public demand for renewable energy. This transition to a low-carbon economy will also ideally fulfill the EPA’s goals of environmental justice, which means that everyone enjoys the “same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards” and has “equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.” The means to achieve this shared vision for the future is already here and is underway, but it must be done equitably to ensure the benefits and hazards of renewable energy are shared.
 Lee, C. 2021. “Confronting Disproportionate Impacts and Systemic Racism in Environmental Policy.” Environmental Law Institute: pages 2-4, 10.
 Bell, K. 2014. “The Causes of Environmental Injustice.” In Achieving Environmental Justice: A Cross-National Analysis. University of Bristol: Policy Press, chapter 3, page 34.
 Ottinger, G. 2013. “The Winds of Change: Environmental Justice in Energy Transitions.” Science as Culture 22(2): 222-229.