Lights Out in the Cold: Reforming Utility Shut-Off Policies as If Human Rights Matter

Lights Out in the Cold: Reforming Utility Shut-Off Policies as If Human Rights Matter

With sixteen of the hottest years on record occurring between 2000 and 2016, the effects of climate change can be life-threatening for low-income households who are at risk of having their utilities disconnected due to late or non-payment of bills, a report from the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice Program argues. The report, Lights Out in the Cold: Reforming Utility Shut-Off Policies as If Human Rights Matter (80 pages, PDF), finds that utility company shutoffs have a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other communities of color, which have higher rates of poverty and shoulder a disproportionate share of the nation's energy burden. While low-income customers with chronic illnesses often rely on utilities for life-supporting systems or rely on frequently hazardous heating, cooling, and lighting devices, many states do not offer plans with built-in medical protections or restrictions on shut-offs. With a view to establishing a universal "right to uninterrupted energy service," the report calls for securing uninterrupted utility service access for all households; ensuring the inclusion of all customers in the development of utility policies and regulations; creating transparency around utility company policies and regulations; and advancing programs designed to help eliminate poverty.