Press Release: New Paper Examines Key Federal and State Roles in U.S. Climate Policy

Press Release
June 27, 2008

Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, (703) 516-4146 

Shared Responsibilities Can Help Meet Climate Challenge

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Of the myriad challenges facing policymakers as they seek to take action on climate change, determining the appropriate respective roles of federal and state governments within comprehensive national legislation is one of the most difficult. In the absence of federal leadership, states are fulfilling their key functions as policy innovators and drivers of new ideas. From their participation in regional greenhouse gas reduction efforts to the implementation of low-carbon energy standards, states are taking action to curb emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

While state action is an important component of climate policy, achieving the significant emissions reductions needed to tackle climate change requires comprehensive national action. A new paper released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change explores this challenge by examining how to best delineate federal and state government roles in crafting a new national climate change policy.

“Toward a Constructive Dialogue on Federal and State Roles in U.S. Climate Change Policy” delivers critical insights into national climate policy approaches that seek to balance federal and state responsibilities. The paper, authored by Franz T. Litz of the World Resources Institute, explores a range of policy options from heavy reliance on federal action to state-dominated policy prescriptions. While political decisions will greatly influence any eventual national climate plan, this paper explains that a well-designed policy will leverage the strengths of each level of government.   

“In order to reduce emissions cost-effectively and to the levels scientists say are necessary, we need the federal government to step up to the plate at the same time the states are doing their part,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “As this paper makes clear, a strong U.S. climate policy will take advantage of the things states do well – such as building efficiency codes and smart growth – and let Washington do things that only Washington can do, such as developing a national cap-and-trade system and negotiating with other countries. There are many ways for states to play a role in the cap-and-trade program, and the national legislation should explicitly address this. I think there is more than enough responsibility and hard work to go around.”

The paper examines shared authority between federal and state governments while providing relevant context for determining appropriate roles. Key sections of the paper include:

  • An historical overview of state and federal actions and shared authority on environmental issues;
  • A summary of federal preemption in the United States;
  • The federal-state partnership under the Clean Air Act; and
  • The benefits and challenges in possible policy approaches.

This paper was first presented in draft form at the Pew Center’s workshop on Innovative Approaches to Climate Change, held in February 2008. The event brought together legislative staff and officials from state and federal governments to share their experience developing climate policies, and to discuss the appropriate roles of each level of government in implementing future national policy. Participants explored how federal policy might be informed by, and interact with, existing state efforts.

For more information about global climate change and the activities of the Pew Center, visit


The Pew Center was established in May 1998 as a non-profit, non-partisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.