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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy produces a high quality biannual journal on cutting-edge environmental legal and policy matters.  JELP is entirely run and produced by students at UCLA School of Law.  Articles in JELP are written by leading scholars throughout the country and often the world, and by students focusing on environmental law at UCLA.

Volume 40, Issue 2, 2022


Restorative Energy Justice

While distributive justice and procedural justice have received substantial attention from energy scholars, recent work identifies restorative justice as an underdeveloped component of the energy justice framework. As conceived in the context of criminal law, restorative justice seeks to more precisely account for harms and obligations that arise from wrongdoing, and to widen the circle of participation in repairing those harms. Restorative environmental justice wields these principles to advance the environmental justice framework beyond a tight focus on disparate environmental and health impacts. Restorative energy justice faces the challenge of deploying this restorative approach in an energy landscape that is often tightly focused on technology choices and business concerns.

In Hawai‘i, we find an opportunity to operationalize the concept of restorative energy justice. The origin of Hawai‘i’s regulated electricity industry is indelibly intertwined with the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. By incorporating a restorative approach that more fully considers the implications of those roots, energy regulators can better account for the future costs and benefits associated with Hawai‘i’s effort to decarbonize its electricity system. In turn, this improved accounting can reduce the risk that the urgency of decarbonization will be placed in a false tension with the imperative of justice.

Addressing Climate Impacts in Alaska Native Tribes: Legal Barriers for Community Relocation due to Thawing Permafrost and Coastal Erosion

Rural communities is Alaska—predominantly Alaska Native Tribes—are at the forefront of climate change impacts and climate justice concerns in the United States. According to the 2019 Alaska statewide threat assessment report, 29 communities are currently experiencing significant climate change-related erosion. Further, 38 communities faces significant flooding, and 35 have major problems with thawing permafrost. Some Alaska Native communities have explored community relocation to adapt to these impacts. Because federal law does not recognize gradual environmental impacts like thawing permafrost and coastal erosion as disasters, these communities are ineligible for disaster funding and struggling with how to adapt to the very urgent—albeit less immediate—issues that they face.

This article analyzes the chalenges of Alaska Native Tribes attempting to access federal assistance for community relocation. While some posit that the federal trust responsibility for Tribal Nations might help leverage federal help with community relocation, the status of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) extinguished almost all claims of aboriginal title and reservations in Alaska. General access to federal disaster funding and programs may be another avenue for assistance; however, the limited definition of "disaster" and overly burdensome requirements for federal programs mean that many Alaska Native communities are left to struggle on their own.

In response to these challenges, this article explores possible solutions to help these communities with their relocation efforts. It examines the newly adopted Building Resilient Communities and Infrastructure Program as a potential funding opportunity for community relocation efforts, along with programs focused on climate justice. Finally, the article concludes by proposing the expansion of a state role in helping coordinate federal grant programs on behalf of Alaska Native Tribes and the funding of resilience officers by the federal government at regional Alaska Native organizations to navigate requirements for community relocation grant programs.

Climate Change in the Bahamas: Using International Norms of the Sea to Slow the Warming of Bahamian Waters

Small island developing states (SIDS) are experiencing climate change not just as a threat to their lifestyle, but as an immediate threat to their existence. Climate change poses unique risks to these islands, due to their small size, low-lying nature, lack of infrastructure, and minimal adaptation resources. Furthermore, climate change impacts the sea more than most other ecosystems. Ninety percent of global warming is occurring in the world’s oceans. Because SIDS are exceptionally dependent on the ocean for natural resources and various sources of income, their continued existence is dependent upon both fighting climate change and protecting oceans.

This paper will argue that the international tools being used to protect the world’s oceans can also be effective tools to fight climate change. As greenhouse gas emissions continue to intensify ocean warming and irreparably harm ocean resources, SIDS can argue that these emissions violate internationa ltreaties and customary law meant to protect the ocean and its resources.

This paper will also propose three concrete ways that legal advocates for SIDS—activists, lawyers, government actors, and NGOs—can use these arguments: First, the arguments can be brought to the International Court of Justice to request an advisory opinion focusing specifically on emissions causing ocean warming. Second, they can be brought to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea with the same request. Finally, they can be codified into a new treaty committed specifically to slowing the warming of the world’s oceans.