Fighting for US Public Power Legislation

Johanna Bozuwa Co-Manager, Climate & Energy Program

June 3, 2021

Our dominant system for providing electricity to homes and businesses in the United States—through investor-owned energy utilities—is deeply problematic. By prioritizing shareholder profits over people’s needs, these utilities repeatedly exacerbate climate disasters through their insistence on fossil-fuel use and force millions of families to choose between keeping their homes from either freezing or overheating and feeding their children or seeing a doctor. Increasingly, the consequences can be deadly.

To save lives and to fight the climate crisis at the same time, electricity must be a public good; every single person in this country should have the electricity and temperature control they need for basic survival. The United States must reimagine its power system so that it is just, equitable, anti-racist, climate- and disaster-resilient, and democratically controlled. We believe that is possible only through a public power system. 

Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., have introduced in the House of Representatives a public utilities resolution “expressing that the United States must establish electricity as a basic human right and public good, and eradicate the reliance on monopolized, profit-driven utility corporations.” Initial co-sponsors include Reps. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.; Marie Newman, D-Ill.,; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Specifically, the public utilities resolution calls for:

  • Funding a just energy transition for public and co-op providers, in order to replace existing infrastructure with renewable, affordable alternative sources of power.
  • Requiring federal power providers, including the Tennessee Valley Authority and power marketing administrations, to provide 100% renewable power and to be publicly accountable utilities.
  • Establishing aggressive targets for investor-owned utilities’ decarbonization and bringing non-compliant utilities into an appropriate scale of public ownership.
  • Promote energy democracy and transparent processes by establishing federal guidelines and incentives to enable communities and workers to hold all utilities accountable.
  • Ensure grid resilience and universal access to affordable power by enacting a universal ban on electricity disconnections for nonpayment and enforcing progressive residential electricity rates.

Investing in and democratizing the public and cooperative power we already have in the United States offers a golden opportunity to break corporate power and to redesign the grid so that everyone, particularly those most marginalized by the fossil-fuel system, has a voice in an energy transition that is truly in the public’s best interest. We need to end the privatized, fossil-fueled, and racist energy system that we live in today. In its place, we can build a public and community-controlled energy system, rooted in justice. Access to affordable and clean energy is a human right, and the federal government has the power to support communities across the United States already on the ground fighting for energy democracy.

Learn more

  • News release: “Reps. Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman Introduce Resolution to Make Power a Public Utility”
  • Kate Aronoff in The New Republic: “The Green New Dealers Propose Their Own Infrastructure Idea: Socialize Your Energy Bill”

Key articles and reports on public power and energy democracy

A new era of public power: A vision for New York Power Authority in pursuit of climate justice

New Yorkers have the opportunity to demand, build, and benefit from a more democratic and equitable energy system. This report shows how the New York Public Authority can play a central role in meeting the state’s sustainability and equity goals

Energy democracy and public power

A four-page pamphlet tells the story of public power campaigns that strike at the heart of the fossil-fueled energy system and take on upholders of the status quo. 

Supporting energy democracy through a Green New Deal

Five policy proposals to tackle an extractive economy and move to a sustainable and equitable energy policy: community choice aggregation, a Community Ownership of Power Administration, debt cancellation for rural cooperatives, a federal green investment bank, redesigned renewable incentives

Building Resiliency through Green Infrastructure: A community wealth building approach

How investments in the green infrastructure needed for climate resiliency can be leveraged to build community wealth with worker cooperatives and social enterprises.

Energy democracy: taking back power

Across the world, communities have initiated campaigns to shift from investor-owned utilities to publicly owned and operated utilities, increasingly taking on the perspective and language of energy democracy. 

Public ownership for energy democracy

Energy democracy—a new idea from the ranks of community organizers, labor, and renewable energy advocates who see our current energy system as broken and destructive—seeks to take on the political and economic change needed to tackle the energy transition holistically.

Quantitative easing for the planet

The United States can wield its sovereign monetary power to shift majority control of fossil fuel reserves away from profit-driven, short-minded shareholders to the public interest.