Few State Climate Bills Enacted in 2015

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Gerald B. Silverman

Dec. 30 — State legislatures were mostly quiet in 2015 when it came to enacting significant climate change bills, with the notable exception of California.

Other states that did take action in 2015 rolled back efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions or took steps to resist the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which requires states to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the fleet of existing power plants.

California Pursues Ambitious Agenda

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law dozens of environment and energy measures that lawmakers passed in the legislative session that ended Sept. 11. Bills to advance the governor's ambitious climate policies were among the most closely watched.

Brown signed S.B. 350 to help achieve his goal of boosting the state's renewable energy standard from 30 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030. The bill also aims to double the energy efficiency of existing buildings by 2030.

A related bill, A.B. 802, requires the California Public Utilities Commission to clear the way for the state's investor-owned utilities to offer incentives to make existing buildings more energy efficient and then recoup the costs through reasonable rates. A.B. 802 also requires utilities to maintain records on the energy use of buildings they service.

The new law repeals a provision in existing law requiring owners or operators of commercial buildings to disclose energy performance information upon the sale or lease of a building.

Another climate-related bill signed by Brown that will affect the housing sector is a measure (A.B. 693) creating a program offering financial incentives for solar installations at multifamily affordable housing projects.

Climate Adaptation Bills

Brown signed a number of bills related to climate adaptation, including a one (A.B. 1482) requiring the Natural Resources Agency to update the state's climate adaptation plan by July 1, 2017, and then again every three years. The law also creates a framework for the Natural Resources Agency to coordinate adaptation efforts with other state agencies.

He also signed a bill (S.B. 246) establishing an Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program to coordinate regional and local adaptation efforts with state planning and a bill (S.B. 379) requiring cities and counties to include climate risk assessments and adaptation strategies in their general hazard mitigation plans by 2017. Local agencies without the plans will have until 2022 to identify risks and adaptation strategies.

Brown also signed these climate-related measures:

• A.B. 692, requiring state agencies that use vehicle fuels to buy a minimum of 3 percent of very low carbon fuels a year, beginning January 2017, and then increasing that amount by 1 percent a year, as long as it is feasible and the fuels perform adequately;
• A.B. 793, requiring retail electric and gas companies to develop incentive programs by June 30, 2016, to encourage customers to use energy management technologies;
• A.B. 1236, requiring cities and counties to create an expedited permitting and inspection process for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations;
• A.B. 1269, extending until 2021 sales and use tax exclusions for projects that promote advanced manufacturing in California, reduce greenhouse gas emissions or curb air and water pollution and energy consumptions; and
• A.B. 1496, requiring the California Air Resources Board to monitor high emission methane hot spots and review scientific information on the atmospheric reactivity of methane as a precursor to the formation of photochemical oxidants, which include ozone.


New York Adds RGGI Money to General Fund

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed a budget bill April 13 that swept $41 million in state proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative into the state General Fund (S.4610).

The sweep raised concerns among environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers who said it diverted money from its intended purpose—energy efficiency, clean energy and consumer benefit projects.

The bill directed $23 million of the proceeds to the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), a fund used for various environmental projects, parks and historic sites.

Under the memorandum of understanding between the nine RGGI states, most proceeds are supposed to be used for energy efficiency, clean energy and consumer benefit projects.

Washington Bill Stymies Fuel Standards

In Washington, a disgruntled Democratic governor swallowed hard and signed a revenue bill (2ESSB 5987) July 15 that contained a “poison pill” inserted by Republican lawmakers attempting to stymie the administration's imposition of low-carbon fuel standards.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) responded to the Legislature's failure to approve bills to institute a cap-and-trade program and to set low-carbon fuel standards with a July 28 order to the Ecology Department to promulgate rules to cap carbon.

“This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action,” he said at the time. “But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution, so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful steps.”

The cap-and-trade rules will require the state's largest polluters—foundries like Alcoa Inc. and refineries like BP Plc, Shell, Phillips 66 Co. and Tesoro Corp.—to reduce their greenhouse emissions.

Inslee also said he would not pursue a clean fuel standard because the so-called poison pill in 2ESSB 5987 would sweep about $2 billion earmarked for multi-modal transportation from the $16 billion transportation infrastructure package funded by the bill if he imposes a clean fuel standard through executive action.

Wisconsin Repeals Permit Rule

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed S.B. 144 July 1, repealing a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) administrative rule relating to construction permit requirements for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases. The DNR's rule had been linked to the EPA's view that it has the authority to regulate the emissions from a wide range of stationary sources.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 ruled EPA had overstepped its authority in establishing permitting requirements stationary based on greenhouse gas emissions alone (Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. EPA, 2014 BL 172973, 78 ERC 1585, 134 S. Ct. 2427 (2014).

S.B. 144 clarifies that the DNR administrative rule is invalid in light of the Supreme Court's ruling.

Other States Take Action

Other state actions include:

• Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a resolution March 25 (HCR 8) calling on President Barack Obama to direct federal agencies that implement management practices that increase soil carbon sequestration to develop plans to achieve the maximum amount of carbon sequestration possible and increase the economic and environmental productivity of rangelands. The resolution declared that emphasizing improved soil health as the primary means of removing atmospheric carbon dioxide “represents a win-win solution to the current climate change controversy.”
• North Carolina lawmakers considered a measure (H.B. 571) that would have required the Department of Environmental Quality to file suit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. Although the bill died in session, the state agency sued anyway.
• Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law May 18 legislation (S.B. 1325; Public Act No. 2015-478) that requires a commission, upon submission of the Department of Environment and Conservation's final state plan for administering the EPA's Clean Power Plan to prepare a report that assesses effects of the plan on the electric power sector and electricity consumers in the state.


With assistance from Andrew Ballard in Raleigh, N.C., Tripp Baltz in Denver, Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles, Paul Shukovsky in Seattle and Michael Bologna in Chicago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gerald B. Silverman in Albany, N.Y., at gsilverman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Request Environment & Energy Report