Claire Stamler-Goody, Assistant Director of Communications

The Abrams Environmental Law Clinic had already spent months battling Detroit’s electricity provider over a proposed rate increase when the pandemic arrived last spring. Suddenly, the already pressing concerns about energy affordability took on a heightened urgency—and the clinic quickly switched gears.

“We were advocating for low-income consumers, highlighting how these individuals already suffer from energy insecurity, and how utility bills are often a much larger percentage of their income,” said Clinical Professor Mark Templeton, Director of the Abrams Clinic. “And once COVID-19 hit, we talked about how the pandemic was adding some serious additional challenges.”

The Abrams Clinic got involved in the initial the rate case through their client Soulardarity, a Detroit-area nonprofit that advocates for affordable energy rates, equitable service, and increased solar-powered energy in low-income neighborhoods. When DTE, Southeastern Michigan’s electricity and gas provider, proposed a rate increase before the Michigan Public Service Commission—the government entity that regulates investor-owned utilities like DTE and approves rate increases—Soulardarity was one of many parties to intervene and oppose the move. That opposition took on increased importance as the virus spread and stay-at-home orders took effect—and the Abrams Clinic began focusing on the ways in which higher electricity bills could create additional harms.

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