NCEL Blog

The Green New Deal for States: Part I

March 13, 2019 | This is the first of a five-part series covering how states are leading the way in achieving the broad goals outlined in Green New Deal. The series serves as an informative resource for legislators on a topic that has recently captured the public discourse on environmental policy. This is not an endorsement of the Green New Deal or its supporters.

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Clara Summers
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There’s been a lot of talk about the Green New Deal (GDN) lately, an ambitious plan introduced in Congress. The bill itself is a concept document, a resolution outlining a set of goals and potential pathways that the federal government can use to mitigate climate change, protect public health and the environment, create jobs and bring about a new clean energy economy.  

Though the GND is relatively new, its fundamental ambitions are not. In fact, states have already been working towards achieving the broad goals of the GND, like promoting clean energy as Hawaii’s 100% renewable energy standard has or reducing greenhouse gas emissions as many states continue to pursue through carbon pricing legislation

At the start of the 2019 session, a number of state legislators voiced interest in developing their own state-based Green New Deal. With the absence of federal leadership, there is a real opportunity for states to achieve some, if not all, of the GND’s ambitions. So, what exactly are those ambitions?

GND Goals:

In reading through the GND resolution you pick up on a familiar list of fundamental goals for the United States to achieve in the coming decades:

  • Create good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.
  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just energy transition for all communities and workers.
  • Invest in sustainable infrastructure and industries that meet the economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
  • Safeguard public health through environmental protection, ensuring that all people have access to clean air and water, healthy food, nature, and sustainable and resilient communities.
  • Promote environmental justice and equity for frontline and vulnerable communities impacted by natural and man-made environmental hazards.

As you can tell, these aren’t new concepts. They have been the principal drivers of environmental legislation for the past few decades, just under new branding. So how have state’s led on these goals, and what policies have they enacted to achieve them?

Let’s start off by taking a look at what states have done on the jobs front, or goal #1 as listed above.

Green Jobs and the Clean Energy Economy:

One GND goal is to “create good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States”. Federal workforce programs may exist but some states have seen fit to build on them as solutions to localized issues and to make their economies more regionally competitive. Here are some examples:

In 2016, Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act (SB 2814), one of the most comprehensive energy packages ever passed in the state. The Act expanded energy efficiency programs and enhanced requirements for state utilities to cut electricity waste between 16-21.5%. In addition to raising the state’s renewable energy target to 4,300 MW by 2030, it established an ambitious community solar program called Solar For All to help low-income and environmental justice communities gain access to clean and cost-saving power. Importantly, the bill also devoted $30million to job training programs in energy efficiency and renewable deployment.

Illinois hasn’t stopped advancing these policies though. Earlier this year, legislators introduced an ambitious update to the law called the Clean Energy Jobs Act which focuses heavily on environmental justice in clean energy and sets the state up to achieve 100% zero-carbon power by 2050.

Established in 1995 by the Vermont Legislature (statute here), the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund is a nonprofit organization that partners with state government, private sector businesses, and nonprofits to both protect Vermont’s natural environment and grow the state’s economy with sustainability in mind. The Fund provides business assistance, value chain facilitation, network development, and strategic planning in agriculture and food systems, forest products, waste management, renewable energy, and environmental technology.

The Green Jobs – Green New York Program was established by the NY legislature in 2009 through A.8901 to provide residents access to energy assessments, installation services and low-interest financing for energy efficiency retrofits, along with establishing training pathways for green-collar careers. The program directs it’s efforts to targeted communities, such as low to moderate income households and underserved populations, working with local community organizations and small businesses to leverage local capacity.

Takeaways:

Investments in renewable technologies and deployment alone will create jobs but a key takeaway here is that those investments can be tied with programs that lift-up local workforce. By designing incentives that promote job training and business development in communities that will utilize and draw the most benefit from them, states are seeking to create a virtuous cycle of green economic growth.

States are continually pursuing green jobs growth efforts. Here’s a list of active bills that have been introduced this session:

States considering green job legislation in 2019
States considering green job legislation in 2019

Next, we’ll be taking a look at how states have worked toward goal #2, “Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just energy transition for all communities and workers”.