University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law

Library of Congress Authority File


This Article offers New York City’s Renewable Rikers project as an example of how this might be done, and how communities might combine decarbonization with decarceration in order to build a more just and sustainable society. By putting racial justice and overburdened communities at the center of building a clean energy grid, Renewable Rikers offers a model for genuine and transformative change that confronts root causes of inequality and builds a better, fairer city. It does so by tying electrification and land use decisions to equity concerns, and by facilitating meaningful community involvement in these infrastructure decisions. In this fashion, Renewable Rikers offers a rebuke to the oft-repeated “keeping the lights on” justifications for maintaining and expanding polluting infrastructure, and does so without excluding or demanding further sacrifices from those who can least afford it. Together the Renewable Rikers coalition and legislation they helped pass offer a roadmap for how creativity and community collaboration can ensure that energy infrastructure decisions achieve climate and social justice goals at the same time.

The Article begins with a brief overview of the twin challenges that New York City faces concerning climate change and criminal justice. Part III introduces recent New York State and New York City legislative activities targeting climate change at the state and city level. Part IV details the Renewable Rikers plan as it was encoded in three recent New York City local laws. Part V, after laying out a description of the plan, then analyzes Renewable Rikers in light of the intersecting ramifications of New York’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and New York City’s 2017 commitment to permanently shut the jail at Rikers Island. This section situates Renewable Rikers at the intersection of the twin crises of the looming climate catastrophe, and the urgent societal need to confront racial injustice. It suggests that Renewable Rikers offers a model for swift, radical action on both fronts simultaneously. Finally, Part VI concludes with lessons gleaned from the campaign for both the CLCPA and Renewable Rikers, discussing what does and does not work and offering suggestions that can be applied elsewhere.