Public Policy Research Powers Sierra Club Report on Black Energy Burden in Georgia

Posted March 19, 2024

A new report prepared by Regents’ Professor Marilyn A. Brown and a team of student researchers from Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy digs into the causes of energy burden among Georgia’s Black residents. 

The study aligns with numerous other studies showing that race alone is a contributing factor to experiencing higher energy burdens. However, the Georgia Tech research findings include data showing that homes with children, older people, or those headed by women were even more at risk. Researchers also found that a 13% increase in an area’s Black population equated to an approximately 1% increase in energy burden. 

Households are often considered energy-burdened if they spend more than 6% of their monthly budget on energy, according to the report. 

“One thing that sets this Sierra Club report aside from other breakdowns of energy burden across the country is the meticulous description of the conditions and causes of high energy burdens among 33 energy-stressed Black households in Georgia, who were identified and interviewed by community organizations,” Brown said. 

Historical trends such as mortgage redlining, highway, and power plant placements, and the effect of deforestation and urban heat islands on urban, predominantly Black communities all play a role in contributing to the unusually high energy costs many Black Georgians end up paying, according to the report. 

“This isn’t an abstract thing. People are having to choose whether they cool their homes or put food on the table or buy medicine,” said Brown, also Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems. 

While the report—parts of which have been published in a peer-reviewed journal and another manuscript under review—makes no policy recommendations, the researchers note that changes to state and federal housing policies are urgently needed. 

“Implementing effective policy solutions would not only decrease high energy burdens, bill payment problems, and utility shut-offs, but would also promote the health, safety, and economic vitality of Black families, slash U.S. carbon emissions and build a stronger, more inclusive climate movement,” they wrote. 

The report, Energy Burdens of Black Households in Georgia” was published on March 14 by the Sierra Club, which funded the research. 

In addition to Brown, Ph.D. students Snehal Kale, Ryan Anthony, and Majid Ahmadi, and alum Ashley Hill, MSEEM 2022, co-authored the report. 

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A new study by School of Public Policy researchers for the Sierra Club looks into the causes of energy burden among Black residents of Georgia.

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Michael Pearson
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts