July | August 2017







States Tackle Energy and Environment Issues as Federal Government Takes Back Seat

By Devashree Saha, director of energy and environmental policy
It is often said that states are the laboratories of democracy. In a 1932 Supreme Court decision, Judge Louis Brandeis wrote, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
That statement is as relevant now as ever. It is a highly uncertain time for federal energy and environmental policies in the United States. Citing federal overreach and burdensome regulations, President Donald Trump has prioritized domestic fossil fuel interests and rolled back nearly two dozen rules, regulations and policies aimed at protecting the environment and addressing climate change.
However, even as the federal government continues reversing federal energy and environmental policies and regulations, state governments are stepping up to address the nation’s energy and environmental priorities.
The same day that the Trump administration issued its executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York released a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to curbing their states’ carbon emissions.
“Together, California and New York represent approximately 60 million people—nearly one-in-five Americans—and 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product,” the statement said. “With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future.”
New York and California are hardly the only states in the nation that are using their own regulatory power and budgets to fill a void being left by the federal government. In fact, there is a steady drumbeat of support for clean energy and environmental protection coming from both Republican and Democrat policymakers at the state level in recent weeks.
In response to Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, several states have joined together to create the United States Climate Alliance. The 13 members of the alliance have pledged to reduce emissions 26–28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005 levels and meet or exceed the targets of the federal CPP.
In announcing Rhode Island’s decision to join the United States Climate Alliance, Gov. Gina Raimondo said, “Rhode Island may be a small state, but climate change can have a big impact on our communities. We are determined to fight climate change from the front lines so that we can preserve our environment—including our Narragansett Bay—for future generations and create good-paying, future-proof jobs in the process.”
States are also beginning to negotiate with other countries as well. California negotiated a green technology agreement with China aimed at addressing climate change. The technology agreement expands cooperation on the advancement of low-carbon, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, specifically, zero-emission vehicles, energy storage, grid modernization and low-carbon urban development.
Some of the most forceful advocates for clean energy leadership are Republican governors. Midwestern Republican governors in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan have all recently signed or proposed new measures supporting clean energy. Illinois passed legislation providing incentives to its existing nuclear plants and doubling the state’s energy efficiency standard. This is forecasted to achieve a 56 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions in the state’s power sector, almost twice what would have been required under the CPP.
Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa unveiled the Iowa Energy Plan, which puts a premium on increasing utility-scale wind and solar facilities in the state. “The comprehensive new energy plan will help build on our past energy successes and reaffirms our commitment to maintaining Iowa’s energy leadership in the future,” Branstad said in his 2017 “Condition of the State” address.
Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich recently vetoed a bill aimed at slowing the progress of renewables, while asserting that “Ohio workers cannot afford to take a step backward from the economic gains that we have made in recent years.”
According to a recent review by InsideClimate News, hundreds of pieces of clean energy legislation have been introduced this year, including efforts to boost renewable energy mandates in Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Currently 29 states in the country, along with Washington D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.