States Continue Policy Push

As we enter the dog days of August in Washington, it’s become evident that states must continue to push forward with their own efforts to combat climate change. At the regional, state, and local level, public policy is being formed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while maintaining the right balance between protecting the environment and growing the economy. But many states are being forced to make tough decisions using limited resources, and for some, this November’s election could be pivotal for setting the future course of the effort.

If you’re concerned that climate change action ended with Senator Reid’s decision to exclude a cap on GHG emissions from energy legislation this summer, rest assured that action in the U.S. is ongoing and growing in many areas. While Senate inaction has caused the Washington policy community to turn greater attention to potential EPA climate action and the related legal ramifications, it’s important to recognize the valuable work in practice at the state level.

For instance, carbon dioxide (CO2) from electricity in ten Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states has been capped since January of 2009; the regional cap-and-trade initiative, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), will reduce CO2 from electricity by 10 percent by 2018. Many believed that RGGI would be a model for a national cap on utilities with legislation, which may still be the case once climate legislation resurfaces.

Another regional effort, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), recently released a comprehensive strategy to reduce GHG emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 at a net savings of $100 billion. Furthermore, states have repeatedly taken action that aims to reduce GHG emissions for many years. Below is a small sample of recent action from our website’s section on States News.

Figure 1: States have taken plenty of action over the past two years while Congress considered different climate-related bills.

It is not all good news, though. The ongoing economic recession has led some states to dial back their support for climate change action for the immediate future, while “climategate” has led others to openly question climate change science (all scientists involved in the controversy have been exonerated of any wrongdoing).

Arizona’s governor issued an Executive Order that put off indefinitely the state’s participation in the WCI’s cap-and-trade program set to begin in 2012, citing the recession. Utah’s legislature urged the U.S. EPA to “halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its ‘Endangerment Finding’ and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of climate data and global warming science can be substantiated.” Lastly, a ballot initiative in California could permanently delay implementation of the state’s landmark global warming law (AB-32), citing the law’s effect on the economy despite the state’s own analysis that shows the bill will be a net benefit for jobs, personal income, and overall economic production. The fight over this ballot initiative will be significant and most expect a close vote in the fall. A recent poll has California voters rejecting the ballot initiative, but only by a small margin.

Despite these lapses, dozens of states spread across every region of the country remain leaders on climate change, energy independence, and clean energy economic policies. No matter what happens in Congress this year or after the election in November, action on climate change will continue throughout the United States. The states have long been known as incubators of public policy, and their efforts to reduce GHG emissions remain powerful examples of states taking the lead.

Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow