Exploring Environmental Justice & Energy Equity in North Carolina: Interest Groups and Environmental Organizations

By: Dawn Haworth, Communications Assistant

This is the third post of a three part blog series that examines the progress being made to advance Environmental Justice from a clean energy standpoint. The series will cover federal programs and incentives that aim to benefit historically disadvantaged communities, and how those initiatives impact communities at the state and local level.

In the two previous blogs, we covered both federal initiatives and state agency programs that have been established to help advance Environmental Justice (EJ). Next, we look toward interest groups striving to achieve equity in North Carolina, and uncover their involvement with EJ in communities across the state.

What are interest groups and what role do they have in Environmental Justice?

Interest groups are non-profit organizations typically composed of community members with shared goals or concerns that work to influence public policy in a specific area. These groups can range from focusing on a small community within a particular state to focusing on a number of communities across the country.

A large part of EJ is the representation of all people, especially those who have historically been marginalized. Environmental interest groups work to represent communities, environmental organizations, and social justice advocates. They educate the public on EJ issues and spread awareness about the disproportionate impacts of environmental harm on low-income communities and communities of color. Interest groups are able to organize and mobilize community members to advocate for their rights.

Interest groups have an important role in policy decisions, as they develop proposals, draft legislation, and lobby politicians to support their initiatives. Creating policies aimed at achieving equity is critical to EJ. They also can file lawsuits against industries, government agencies, or other organizations that are responsible for harmful environmental impacts. By giving communities a voice and the resources to develop or challenge policy, interest groups have the power to make large strides in EJ.

There are many groups in North Carolina covering a broad range of environmental interests. Let’s look at some of those organizations, and explore what they have been doing in the area of EJ and energy equity.

NC Sustainable Energy Association

With a primary focus on clean energy, the NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to make clean energy mutually beneficial to individuals and corporations. They have over 300 organizational members that consist of clean energy developers, local governments, universities, corporations, and other non-profits. Matt Abele, Executive Director of NCSEA states that they work to ensure individuals who stand to benefit the most from a clean energy transition have equitable access to it.

The organization engages in various stakeholder proceedings at the North Carolina Utilities Commission to design new energy programs and policy solutions that will serve low and moderate income households. Abele also notes that their organization places emphasis on equity, diversity, and inclusion  (EDI) among their staff and says that “it is important for others considering a career in clean energy to see individuals that look and feel like themselves to ensure there is representation and a place of belonging.” NCSEA has an EDI blog series that Abele says is aimed to “elevate the stories of diverse individuals within the clean energy space to celebrate their success”.

NC Council of Churches

The NC Council of Churches has a strong focus on eco-justice and is home to the North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light (NCIPL) program. This program works to provide social justice centered solutions to combat climate change with a clean energy focus. They support individuals in organizing their communities to peacefully advocate for climate change and Environmental Justice issues. NCIPL also works to restore ecosystems in underserved communities to build their resiliency in the face of adverse climate effects.

NC Conservation Network

The NC Conservation Network has a community-based approach to strive for equity. They have two programs aimed to collaborate with communities as well as community leaders. The Creating Change program works with communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental burden, and provides training opportunities year-round on advocacy and campaigning. They also give individuals the resources they need to support their best interests and support them in contacting policy-makers, attending public hearings, and organizing coalitions.

The Environmental Justice Community Connector Initiative (EJ CCI) consists of expert community leaders within North Carolina. These leaders use their experience to represent historically underserved communities of color and low-income communities that are facing negative environmental impacts. EJ CCI members guide the NC Conservation Network in their engagement efforts and assist in organizing impacted communities to generate change.

NC Environmental Justice Network

The North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) is a grassroots coalition led by people of color that works with marginalized communities and individuals in areas of environmental and social issues. Their six core beliefs are:

  1. Grassroots Education and Organizing
  2. Grassroots-Driven Solution
  3. People Power
  4. Justice
  5. Democratic Participation
  6. Economic and Political Equity

NCEJN hosts an array of events for individuals to get involved with the organization. Their most recent event in February 2024 gathered the community of West Badin, NC to address toxic waste cleanup and corporate accountability. They hosted an interactive panel discussion and spread awareness of a local aluminum company’s discriminatory waste management practices.


Interest groups like these organizations are the driving force behind advocating for proper representation of underserved communities in policy decisions. Collaboration between state agencies, policy makers, and environmental organizations helps to ensure that new projects are developed with equity at the forefront. 

This series has identified some of the work being done to advance Environmental Justice and Energy Equity throughout the state, and has highlighted the importance of federal and state policies that influence the lives of North Carolinians. As the clean energy field continues to grow, focus needs to be placed on communities that can benefit the most from energy efficient technologies, to ensure equal access to resources for all individuals across North Carolina.