Rutgers researchers examine opportunities for state climate policies to advance equity

September 5, 2019

On September 5 experts from Rutgers University released a new independent report, “Field Notes: Equity and State Climate Policy,” exploring what states are doing to integrate equity considerations in state climate change and clean energy policy. Coming on the heels of the Climate Crisis Town Hall, the report – led by Jeanne Herb and Marjorie Kaplan of Rutgers – takes an in-depth look at the challenges and opportunities faced by the states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, MD and DE), plus NJ and VA, to direct benefits of climate programs to disadvantaged communities and households. The report also reviews efforts in two states (CA and IL) and two cities (Austin, TX and Columbus, OH) to provide perspectives from outside the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. The expert study, a part of the RGGI Project Series, was based on more than 70 interviews of diverse state and city officials, advocates, stakeholders and thought leaders.

“It is widely known, and states recognize, that climate change has a disproportionate impact on low-income individuals, communities of color and indigenous residents,” said author Jeanne Herb. “We also know that under-resourced communities pay a disproportionate amount for energy. The combination of these factors, together with increasing recognition by the states that they cannot achieve their climate goals without involving these communities, creates an important crossroads in state climate policy.

“States and stakeholders alike point to the critical importance of engaging under-resourced communities in state climate policy to develop solutions that reduce energy bills, improve health and reduce carbon emissions,” Herb continued.

A key finding of the report is that meaningful participation matters. Having a seat at the table, transparency and inclusion in the policymaking process are central to many state efforts. Research indicates that many current measures to mitigate climate change – such as solar energy, home energy efficiency improvements and plug-in vehicles – penetrate less among disadvantaged communities due in large part to financial barriers. For example, a recent survey by the Smart Electric Power Alliance found that less than half of U.S. community solar projects have any participation from low-income households. Of projects that do, only about 5% involve a sizable share.

As this new report documents, states are taking new approaches to tackle and remove these financial obstacles and improve delivery of more clean energy projects to targeted communities. Through pilots, demonstration projects, complementary measures and sharing information, the report shows how states are trying new ways to ensure program benefits flow to these under-resourced communities.

“We are proud of the strong climate efforts here in Maryland and throughout the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states,” said Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment and chair of RGGI board of directors. “We, of course, have more to do, and this report will help inform our work to focus on communities most impacted by climate change.”

Herb added, “Now is an ideal time to learn from current innovations to identify what works to inform and scale up effective policies. While there is a long path ahead to meet equity and climate goals, this study provides a progress report for states to learn from each other.”

The study was authored by Jeanne Herb, executive director of the Environmental Analysis & Communications Group at the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and Marjorie Kaplan, associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute.

The RGGI Project Series provides science-based, nonpartisan research and analysis projects by independent experts, intended to tackle and improve understanding of the critical climate change and clean energy issues facing the states and stakeholders today. Launched in 2011, the Series aims to inform and stimulate public dialogue and provide a resource for sound policy decisions. Learn more at

For more information, contact Laurie Burt at

For press inquiries, contact Adam Bink via or 415-495-4200 x113.

Read the Report One Page Summary Executive Summary

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