Addressing energy-related environmental injustice

This page authored by Karen Berger, University of Rochester.
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Initial Publication Date: March 15, 2013


Teams of three students will conduct background reading on environmental justice and energy technologies. They will use this knowledge to identify a specific example of energy-related environmental injustice and possible solutions. Their analysis will be targeted toward a particular audience ranging from their local university officials to federal and international institutions.

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Learning Goals

The goal of this assignment is for students to wrestle with a specific, local environmental justice challenge and identify solutions and constraints. The students need to synthesize their knowledge of social justice with energy basics to develop a realistic means to mitigate the problem they have identified. They use several skills in this assignment: collaboration to identify their problem and solution, writing to create a clear and concise document, and oral presentation in the delivery of their "elevator speech." The assignment focuses explicitly on the scientific aspects of energy production or consumption and their implications for environmental justice.

Context for Use

This assignment is designed to be completed during one lecture period of 50-75 minutes. The students will have read specific articles prior to coming to class and may be encouraged to do some additional individual research. It can easily be adapted for small-group discussion and processing of reading material. It works best if students have access to computers in class for text-creation and also for looking up supplementary facts as needed. It can occur at any time during the semester although it works best in the second half of the course when students have developed a broad familiarity with different energy sources and challenges.

Description and Teaching Materials

Prior to class:
Read articles from the series "Unwelcome neighbors: How the poor bear the burdens of America's pollution" from New Orleans Times-Picayune and "Drilling down" from the New York Times.

During class:
Each three-person team is going to produce two things during the clas period. They will be emailed to the professor at the end of class, and some groups will be asked to present their elevator speech.
1. A one-page, single-spaced memo to the entity selected below.
2. A 45-second "elevator speech" with highlights from your memo.

Entity to be addressed (choose one of the following)

1. President Barack Obama
2. Governor Andrew Cuomo
3. Secretary Steven Chu, Dept. of Energy
4. Administrator Lisa Jackson, EPA
5. UNEP Director Achim Steiner
6. University President
7. A journalist from the local paper
8. The freshmen class, at orientation
9. The senior class, at graduation
10. An exchange student from (country of your choice)
11. Your parents (generically)
12. A typical fifth-grader

Issues to address:
1. A definition of environmental justice.
2. One or two examples of energy-related environmental injustice in the community influenced by your audience. In other words, if your focus is someone at our university, then the issue should be within the greater Rochester community; if you are choosing someone from the federal government, it can be an issue occurring anywhere within the United States.
3. A proposed solution for reversing or ameliorating the injustice.
4. Anticipated challenges in implementing the solution.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The two biggest challenges in this activity are converging on a topic and managing time. It is best to circulate among the groups after about 10 minutes to make sure they have identified a topic and then to check in with the groups periodically throughout the time period to ensure they are making sufficient progress.


This assignment is graded according to the following rubric:
- Response to #1: clearly stated, demonstrates understanding, 5 pts
- Response to #2: thoughtful, demonstrates understanding, 5 pts
- Recommendations
o Quality of discussion (everyone participating, staying on topic), 5 pts
o Practical ideas for addressing justice challenges, 10 pts
- Overall flow and mechanical quality 5 pts
- Elevator speech 5 pts

References and Resources

The information provided on the EPA's environmental justice website ( provides helpful background information to frame the topic for the students prior to the in-class exercise.