States See Same Climate Paths After Trump Election

By Gerald B. Silverman

Nov. 9 — States already controlling greenhouse gas emissions will continue unabated despite Donald Trump’s presidential victory, but his election could offer a reprieve for those states that had resisted action.

“I think that dynamic is not changed by this election,” Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., told Bloomberg BNA.

Kimmell said states acted because they wanted to address the dangers of climate change and become leaders in “the clean energy economy,” not because they were under pressure from the federal government. States like California and the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative went beyond federal requirements under Democratic and Republican administrations and are expected to continue on their current course, environmentalists and academics said.

“We may see a return to the situation that prevailed during the Bush-Cheney era, when, in the face of a hostile administration, states took many actions on their own,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“There will also be a major role for cities, especially on the climate adaptation front,” he said.


Daniel Riesel, principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel based in New York City, likens the situation to 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office and attempted to undo Jimmy Carter’s environmental regulations. He said the attempted retrenchment resulted in increased state activism and citizen-driven lawsuits.

“States and municipalities have found it to be good politics to advance environmental causes in the face of congressional gridlock, and there can be no doubt that they will increase their regulatory programs and may engage in creative programs to reduce climate warming gases, abate the proliferation of solid and hazardous waste, and attempt to encroach upon the jurisdiction of what they will perceive as a moribund federal environmental agency,” he told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“Another factor that was not so forcefully present in 1981 is a corporate awareness that they are also the custodians of the environment,” Riesel said.


“California will continue to lead nationally and globally on these issues,” California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary D. Nichols told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail from Sacramento.

Many California climate programs, like the state’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (A.B. 32) and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars, predate the Obama administration’s programs. A Trump administration, however, could deny California requests for Clean Air Act waivers needed to implement additional vehicle standards beyond federal requirements.

The state’s climate policies also could suffer if federal tax credits for solar and wind energy and for electric vehicles are eliminated, Ethan Elkind, a law professor at both the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley, said in a Legal Planet blog post.

California relies on the federal tax credits and research programs to lessen the economic burden of transitioning to clean energy, he said.

“Without that support, California’s policies will likely become more expensive and potentially politically unpopular,” Elkind said.


The nine RGGI states are in the midst of a program review that could very well tighten the greenhouse gas emissions cap for the cap-and-trade program. The program has endured throughout Republican and Democratic administrations in both Washington and at the state level.

“I do expect the New England states will continue their energy planning,” with or without federal support, Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, told Bloomberg BNA..

“Most of us have had to do so on our own anyway because of the stalemate that has been operating in Congress for many years,” he said. “While we look forward to a federal partner, it’s not critical that we have one,” Recchia said.

Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center based in Washington D.C., said “we expect that states will continue to transition to clean energy and promoting efficiency.”

“These changes have been driven largely by state policies and market forces that are unlikely to change,” she told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“Based on early conversations with senior state officials today from some red and blue-led states, I expect we will see a number of states and cities continuing to lead in promoting clean energy and increasing resilience to climate impacts,” she said.

Washington State

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a climate hawk since his days as a congressman, is expected to continue taking whatever executive action he can to circumvent the state Senate, where Republicans hold a tenuous majority.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax initiative—which would have been the first such tax in the United States—failed at the ballot box with 59 percent voting no. Initiative 732 had no provisions for investing in a post-carbon economy. Supporters of the initiative said its failure to pass opens up the opportunity for new alliances with organized labor and communities of color who opposed the initiative and are seeking a seat at the table to shape a sustainable economy.

Jennifer Smokelin, an attorney in the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith LLP, said the defeat of the Washington carbon tax may portend weaker state action, particularly since Washington is considered a green state.

She told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the Trump victory may “take the urgency out of any action” by states.


Republican-dominated states in the South and Southeast regions are not expected to act on climate change.

Frank Rambo, the head of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Energy and Air Program in Charlottesville, Va., told Bloomberg BNA that he didn’t foresee any state-level action in Southeastern states, “given the political makeup of the region.”

One exception, Rambo said, was an effort in Virginia being led by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) under an executive order ( No. 57) issued in June. McAuliffe’s effort convenes a workgroup charged with recommending ways to reduce carbon pollution from Virginia’s power plants under the state’s existing authority to address such emissions.

In addition, Rambo said there is some movement to address climate change in the region without legislation, as the increasing use of certain renewable sources of energy such as solar installations is being driven by economics. “A lot of this stuff has a momentum all of its own,” he said.


Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and a Republican-controlled legislature have shown little or no interest in policies to hold down carbon emissions.

Scott was a vocal ally of Trump during the presidential campaign, and the state eliminated programs such as a solar panel tax rebate, automobile emissions standards and a governor’s Florida Energy and Climate Commission shortly after Scott was first elected in 2010.

“State leaders in much of the country are rightfully more concerned with ensuring affordable energy for their citizens and less so with implementing costly regulations that will have negligible climate impacts,” Chris Warren, a spokesman for the conservative-leaning Institute for Energy Research, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

“I think President-elect Trump will have a positive impact on state efforts against federal overreach, particularly with the Clean Power Plan,” which sets federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, he said.


It would be “a fool’s errand” for an individual state like Colorado to pursue measures designed to combat climate change during a Trump administration, Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry association in Denver, told Bloomberg BNA.

She said that Secretary of State John Kerry once conceded that even if the U.S. were to eliminate all fossil fuel use in the country, it would have no effect on the global climate because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions in China and India.

“So if the U.S. going down to zero would have no effect on the climate, just imagine how futile it would be for an individual state to handicap its own economy for an even more miniscule environmental effect,” she said.

Sgamma said she believes that if Trump remains true to his promise to halt the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, it will “make it harder for a state to do something.”

“I would think the first thing that will happen in a Trump administration is that there will be no more pressure from the federal government on the states to do something the Administration considers to be unconstitutional,” she said.

If states want to “go it alone” with respect to climate change measures, “if they want to kill their economy and make it harder for blue collar workers to have jobs, then Oklahoma and Texas are more than happy to take up that additional economic opportunity.”

Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist in the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in Denver and advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), said the incoming Trump administration will indeed present challenges for states, and present a “stark contrast” with what a Clinton administration would have done on climate change.

In the absence of federal action, “we will see states step up to the plate” and “do what they can for the people in their state.”

Hickenlooper has committed to having “the cleanest air in the nation,” Finnessey said, “and that doesn’t change in a Trump administration.”

— With assistance from Andrew Ballard in Raleigh, N.C., Adrianne Appel and Martha Kessler in Boston, Tripp Baltz in Denver, Leslie Pappas in Philadelphia, Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles, Chris Marr in Atlanta, Paul Shukovsky in Seattle and Nushin Huq in Houston

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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