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Energy and environmental law expert highlights prevalence of energy insecurity during UH Law Center lecture

May 5, 2021 - Professor Uma Outka of the University of Kansas School of Law discussed energy law, COVID-19, and the overall energy burden that many Americans face in a presentation hosted last week by the University of Houston Law Center's Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center.

The presentation is part of the Energy Transition and Governance series, sponsored by the European Union through its Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant and the efforts of UH EENR Fellow, and Universite de Lyon III professor, Aubin Nzaou.

Outka outlined the importance of considering low-income households in the context of energy law.

“There have been a lot of current events that give helpful lenses to these issues,” she said.

Outka noted that while there have been innovations in energy resources, transitions, energy storage and demand response, there is still a disparity when it comes to low-income households. In fact, 25 percent of households in America are energy insecure.

Energy burden or insecurity, Outka explained, is defined as when households experience situations such as having to forego basic necessities to pay the energy bill, keeping their home at unsafe temperatures because of costs or receive disconnection notices. Energy burden can arise from numerous factors, including income level, the age or specific build of a house, climate and more.

Outka said that only 16.7 percent of total eligible, energy insecure households in the U.S. receive the support they need. She also discussed the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition, which allots funds to states.

“It’s not meeting all of the need,” she said. “It’s never met the full need from the beginning.”

Another key point Outka raised was protecting health in utility disconnection policy, citing specifically “Linda’s Law,” which was passed as a result of a woman named Linda Daniels in New Jersey who died when her electricity was shut off because of overdue bills. She relied on oxygen and electricity, so her case prompted new policies in regards to power companies disconnecting services to customers with serious health needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic also created a broader sense of awareness to energy insecurity, Outka said, since many people lost their employment and income. She said more than 25 percent of those who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 either skipped or felt the need to skip their utility bill payment.

Going forward, Outka said it is positive that energy insecurity is receiving more attention, specifically from the U.S. Department of Energy and at state and local levels.

Outka specializes in the legal context for the low-carbon energy transition, specifically energy and environmental justice, renewable energy, and electricity regulation. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law.

Click here to watch Outka’s complete presentation, "Energy Law, COVID-19 and Energy Burden."

The next event in the series is at 10 a.m. on May 19, and will feature Professor Rebecca Bratspies of the City University of New York School of Law.

Prior speakers in the webinar series are Professor Joshua Galperin of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Professor Alexandra Klass of University of Minnesota Law School, Professor Lee Paddock of the George Washington University School of Law and Professor Roy Partain of the University of Aberdeen School of Law. Their presentations and future presentations can be found here: Marie Sklodowska-Curie Conferences (2020-2022) - The Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center - University of Houston Law Center.

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