Dominic J. Bednar

A Multidimensional Approach to Energy Justice: Exploring Energy Poverty Recognition and Responses in the United States


The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals promote access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, yet millions of American households suffer from energy poverty, threatening their continued access to electricity. Despite its prevalence, the US has not formally recognized energy poverty as a problem distinct from general poverty at the federal level–limiting more effective responses. Current problem characterization and solution interventions lack a holistic framework that considers the multidimensionality of household energy poverty.

While policies supporting energy protections have been in place for years, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 unveiled the entrenched environmental and energy injustices that threaten public health at the household level and inspired energy protection responses to address pandemic-caused economic hardship. This seminar presents evidence of residential energy injustices, national and state level recognition and energy protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and discusses pathways towards a just transition.

Findings demonstrate that current measurement and evaluative metrics hinge on the distribution of government resources and the number of vulnerable households assisted, rather than improving household well-being and reducing overall energy poverty. Moreover, that pandemic-era consumer energy protections were unevenly deployed across the country including differences among low-income and highly energy burdened households. These findings motivate contemporary national, state, and local energy poverty recognition and responses that center personal and economic wellbeing during and after crises.

Dominic Bednar


Dr. Dominic J. Bednar is an Assistant Professor at University of California, Irvine’s School of Social Ecology in the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy.

His research examines the institutional barriers of energy poverty recognition and response in the United States and explores the spatial, racial/ethnic, and socioeconomic patterns of residential energy affordability, consumption, and efficiency. Their research also explores equitable and just pathways towards decarbonization and clean energy workforce development in Black and Brown communities. His body of work promotes ongoing policy analysis and program evaluations to improve community health and to effectuate a just energy transition. 

He completed his Ph.D. in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability concentrating on Energy Justice.  Dr. Bednar holds a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Maryland and a MS in Natural Resources and Environment (Sustainable Systems) from the University of Michigan. He has been recognized as an Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellow (PAGE), Fulbright Scholar, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Bouchet Graduate Honor Society member, Rackham Merit Fellow, and GEM Fellow.