Vanderbilt Law Review


Uma Outka

First Page



Renewable energy is gaining momentum around the globe, but the United States has only just begun to change its energy trajectory away from fossil fuels. Today, only about 10% of electricity in the United States is generated from renewable energy, and most of that comes from hydroelectric power plants that have been operating for many years. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects 30% of new capacity over the next twenty years will utilize renewable resources, without significant changes in U.S. energy policy, but at that pace renewable energy will still account for only 16% of generated electricity. These prospects stand in sharp contrast to the immense potential that exists in U.S. renewable resources which, according to the National Academy of Sciences, "can supply significantly greater amounts of electricity than the total current or projected domestic demand." Yet those resources remain "largely untapped today."

This Article is concerned with renewable energy's too-slow transition and with how existing legal regimes work to preserve fossil energy dominance. The normative assertion that the transition is occurring too slowly proceeds from four related premises: First, that climate change threatens human well-being and the environment and is largely the result of unsustainable overconsumption of fossil energy. Second, that a transformation of the energy sector is possible with existing resources and technologies. Third, that policies to promote renewable energy in the United States have so far been adopted and sustained inconsistently, with federal progress trailing the states. And fourth, that law and policy responses to curtail fossil energy use are needed immediately to avoid the worst risks associated with climbing atmospheric temperatures.