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States and cities are doubling down on the green economy despite President Donald Trump’s dismissal of the Paris climate accord as a bad deal for the U.S.
After the president announced that he would walk away from the international climate deal, a number of states and cities sprang into action, introducing legislation, signing executive orders, and accelerating initiatives already on the books to curb their greenhouse gas emissions. Where Trump sees a bad deal, several states only see green and they’re intent on filling the gap left by the federal government.
“If you really start to scrub all your tools as an executive, you can do a lot,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) told Bloomberg BNA. “It might not make the headlines like a carbon cap, but it can establish the businesses and the technologies that are really necessary to solve this problem.”
The state efforts are a counterpoint to Trump’s argument that the Paris accord would kill the U.S. economy and cost as many as 2.7 million jobs over the next decade.
The apparent groundswell is encouraging for climate activists, but also raises a number of questions, including: How far can the states go to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without a federal policy? And what specific steps will states, cities, and companies take to meet the Paris goals?
“I can’t believe we’re in 2017 and we’re still having the same jobs-versus-the-environment tired conversation,” Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center, told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s unfortunate that we’re in this decentralized, balkanized kind of conversation.”
The ink was barely dry on the president’s plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement when three Democratic governors—Andrew M. Cuomo (N.Y.), Jerry Brown (Calif.), and Inslee—announced that they had formed an alliance of states that plan to meet the pact’s goals.
Nine other states have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance and more than 1,200 cities, businesses, and colleges formed a separate group called We Are Still In. Some 292 mayors representing 60 million people also signed the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and pledged to uphold the goals in the Paris accord.
The We Are Still In coalition is backed by Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg BNA is an affiliate of Bloomberg L.P.
Hawaii wasted no time as Gov. David Ige (D) signed two bills ( S.B. 559, H.B. 1578) on June 6 to commit the state to meeting the goals of the Paris accord. Climate change bills have also been introduced or have moved in California ( S.B. 100), New York ( A. 8270, S. 6617), Massachusetts (S. 477), and Illinois ( S.B. 2212).
But it’s difficult to quantify how much impact states and cities can have on overall greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clear, however, that much of the low-hanging fruit in the electricity generating sector has already been picked by some states, particularly those who have joined the new alliances.
A Bloomberg BNA analysis of Energy Information Administration data found that the 12 states in the new climate alliance accounted for a mere 18 percent, or 985 million metric tons, of the total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. in 2014.
Many of the states pledging to pick up the Trump administration’s slack have already set limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The initiative currently includes nine states, but there has been talk of expanding the network since the EPA released its Clean Power Plan, which set carbon dioxide limits on power plants. Now, with the Clean Power Plan set for repeal and Trump pulling out of the Paris pact, speculation has grown once again. In particular, Virginia and New Jersey are being looked at as possible new states for the cap-and-trade program.
William M. Shobe, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at the University of Virginia, said the Trump announcement could potentially lead other states to join RGGI. It may also spur the nine states to tighten the emissions cap in the RGGI region, which has been undergoing a review since 2015. The current cap expires in 2020.
“The unanswered question is whether the coalition could hold together if there were an effort to expand coverage,” he told Bloomberg BNA in an email. “It seems to me that the lack of federal action may encourage, rather than discourage, more aggressive actions to reduce emissions.”
States don’t need to cap their carbon dioxide emissions to drive cleaner energy sources. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have renewable portfolio standards that require a significant chunk of their electricity be produced by renewable energy, according to a June 12 report from Food and Water Watch. It said these standards account for 60 percent of the renewable electricity generation growth since 2000.
The report said most states have already exceeded their goals, leaving room to set stronger targets. Existing standards will get the U.S. to 40 percent renewables by 2050, it said.
“It is essential to expand and strengthen RPS programs to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2035 in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” the report said. “They may become an increasingly important driver of renewable production as the Trump administration seeks to cut back federal programs supporting wind and solar energy.”
In Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering five bills that would move up the date by which the state must achieve its carbon emissions goals or increase to 100 percent the amount of energy the state must receive from renewables. One of these bills (S. 477) would require the state to reduce carbon emissions from 1990 levels by as much as 65 percent by 2040.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), one of two Republican governors in the newly formed Climate Alliance, has said his administration will pursue the state’s climate change goals regardless of federal action or inaction.
In New York, Cuomo signed an executive order that requires that the state obtain half of its electricity from renewables by 2030, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and double its solar power capacity by 2030. The Trump announcement also led New York to accelerate its ambitious multi-year plan to generate $1.5 billion in investments in renewable energy. The state issued requests for proposals for the first round of the initiative June 7.
States and cities looking to wring out more greenhouse gas emissions reductions may set their sights on their transportation systems.
The transportation sector contributed 27 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2015, compared to 29 percent from electricity generation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Trump announcement could embolden states to step up efforts like the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a program involving 11 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to support the use of electric vehicles, invest in mass transit, and promote sustainable communities.
Five states—Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—announced in November 2015 that they wanted to expand on the initiative to develop a regional, market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
Arroyo, whose center is working with the states, said those efforts are still at the working group level.
A 2015 report from the Georgetown Climate Center estimated that carbon pollution in the Transportation and Climate Initiative region could be cut by 29 percent to 40 percent by 2030 through investments in clean vehicles, freight rail, mass transit, and other programs.
Philadelphia is embarking on a system-wide analysis of its roadways, mass transit, and bike share programs to reduce the city’s emissions, Sarah Wu, deputy director for the city’s office of sustainability, told Bloomberg BNA. The transportation system accounts for 17 percent of the city’s carbon emissions, she said.
The potential battle over California’s vehicle emission standards is one area being closely watched, as states move forward on emissions reductions.
California has unique authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt vehicle emissions standards stricter than the federal requirements, provided the EPA grants the state a waiver. Once the waiver is issued, other states may then adopt California’s standards.
The White House announced earlier this year that it would revisit the Obama administration’s fuel economy and emissions standards for model years 2022 to 2025 cars and light-duty trucks.
“That’s going to be a really important thing to protect,” Arroyo said. “There are other battles to be fought at the state and federal level, and I think that transportation is right up there.”
Brown and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) have promised a legal battle, should the federal government roll back those standards, revoke California’s waiver to set its own standards, or block the state’s efforts to pursue tough vehicle emissions standards in the future.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a House Appropriations panel June 15 that he is not currently reviewing California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards.
While power plants and transportation are the most obvious targets, state regulators and legislators are considering other tools in their arsenal.
“Most people don’t think of capital budgets as climate change budgets, but we do,” Inslee said. “What I have learned about climate change is that to be successful, you have to embrace climate change in all of your areas and policies.”
While budgets are a tool to drive investment in energy efficiency and cleaner generation sources, states can also harness tools like building codes and land use planning to curb emissions, Shobe said.
In New York, Cuomo announced a Clean Climate Careers program, which aims to create 40,000 new jobs, one day after Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate deal. Rather than heralding endorsements from environmental groups, he emphasized support from the New York State AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union of America, the Utility Workers Union of America, and others.
In addition, Cuomo created a program for communities that face the retirement of carbon-intensive power plants. The program will provide $15 million for workforce development and training and establish a working group to develop policies for those communities.
Energy efficiency in buildings is also an area where states and cities can have an impact on emissions. Shobe said there is “considerable room for gains in efficiency in building shells, lighting, and transportation.”
San Francisco, for example, has passed a city ordinance requiring that building owners use 15 percent of roof space on all new construction for solar panels, a roof garden or some kind of green space.
In addition, Atlanta’s City Council approved a $500 million bond financing package on June 5 for the city’s new property-assessed clean energy program, which will provide loans for property owners to install solar panels and other renewable energy equipment. That came a month after the council also passed a resolution setting the goals of 100 percent renewable energy usage for all city operations by 2025 and for all private electricity usage in the city by 2035.
Philadelphia has also taken aim at reducing emissions in the building sector, urging state regulators to update outdated building codes. Pennsylvania requires building codes be uniform statewide. An estimated 79 percent of the city’s emissions come from buildings and industry.
The commitment to uphold the Paris agreement is a new goal for the city, said Wu, the city’s deputy sustainability director. “It gave us a timeline that we didn’t have before,” she said.
There are a number of “blue” cities in “red” states that have committed themselves to meeting the Paris pact.
Houston, a city at the center of the oil and gas industry, has focused its environmental initiatives on efforts that can also save the city money, such as renewable energy for municipal buildings, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles for municipal departments, according to Lara Cottingham, Houston’s deputy assistant director in charge of sustainability and strategic customer initiatives.
She told Bloomberg BNA that the city signed a 20–year power purchase agreement for solar energy and is aiming to power 100 percent of its municipal buildings from renewable sources, mostly wind, by 2018.
“We’re a bluish city in a really red state,” Cottingham said. “We’re the energy capital of the world, so there has to be that balance because there’s no way we can say, ‘We support the Paris climate agreement, so tomorrow we’re going to outlaw fossil fuels.’ That’s not just feasible.”
Similarly, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) signed an executive order June 7 that pledges to meet the goals of the Paris pact, even if the state does not. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has been silent on the topic.
One of the reasons why cities—and states, for that matter—are moving on climate change is that they are on the front lines when it comes to the impact and costs of climate change and extreme weather events, according to Arroyo. She expects that states and cities will continue to be active in the areas of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“It’s real and it’s here and its going to only grow over time,” she said.
The U.S. may be relinquishing its role as a global climate leader, but some state officials are willing to step into that breach.
California’s Brown began stumping for climate change action in the days immediately following Trump’s Paris announcement.
He met with Chinese provincial and national leaders to expand California’s existing climate and clean energy partnerships. He signed pacts to collaborate with Tsinghua University and create a new working group with China’s automobile makers and battery manufacturers to speed deployment of zero emission vehicles to support the U.S. market.
“We believe in the Paris Accord and we are going to stick to our commitments,” Brown said at Tsinghua University, June 8 according to a transcript. “And we’re going to persuade other states and do everything we can to get the whole United States of America fully supporting all the efforts needed to decarbonize America’s economy—and, in fact, the world’s economy.”
— With assistance from Adrianne Appel in Boston, Joyce Cutler in San Francisco, Nushin Huq in Houston, Stephen Joyce in Chicago, Christopher Marr in Atlanta, Leslie Pappas in Philadelphia, Paul Shukovsky in Seattle, and Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gerald B. Silverman in Albany, N.Y. at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at email@example.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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