NCEL Blog

The Green New Deal for States: Part II

March 29, 2019 | This is the second 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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In Part I of this series we outlined the broad ambitions of the Green New Deal and showed what some states have done to foster a market of green jobs through legislation (GND Goal 1). Now we’ll take a look at what efforts have been underway to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and catalyze the transition to a fully clean energy economy.

Goal #2: Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just energy transition for all communities and workers.

Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

Perhaps the most widely used strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is transitioning the power sector away from electricity generated by fossil fuel to that generated by renewable sources, such as solar and wind. The renewable portfolio standard (RPS) has been a powerful state policy tool to achieve this with over half of U.S. states implementing their own targets. In fact, a recent report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that roughly half of all growth in renewables since 2000 is associated with state RPS requirements. A notable achievement was made by Hawaii in 2015 when it passed HB 623 the country’s first 100 percent RPS with a target date of 2045, setting the stage for a number of other states to pursue the same effort. Since then, California and New Mexico have followed suit in passing 100 percent zero-carbon legislation, with several other states considering legislation in 2019.List of Current 100% Clean Energy Legislation

Carbon Pricing

In addition to incentivizing renewable energy deployment, states are turning to other market-based policies to tackle GHGs at the source. Carbon pricing remains the most popular policy tool for achieving sharp emission reductions. Though California is the only U.S. state to successfully implement carbon pricing, utilizing a cap and trade model, legislators across the country have continued to champion the effort. This year alone 16 states have introduced some form of a price on carbon – even including Texas! State leaders are also looking to regional cooperation on carbon pricing as opposed to “going it alone”, with an eye to supporting and expanding carbon markets like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and Western Climate Initiative.

States considering carbon pricing legislation
States considering carbon pricing legislation
Transportation

Outside of the electric power sector, states have also been leading the way on emissions reductions in transportation, specifically motor vehicles. California began the trend when it set the strictest vehicle standards in the country, known as the Low Emission Vehicle Standard. Since its inception, 13 other states have adopted the standard to curb emissions and pollutants in their borders. Some have even gone as far as to adopt California’s Zero-emissions Vehicle program which sets a maximum average level of harmful pollutants emitted from a manufacturer’s entire line of vehicles sold in the state. Along the lines of regional cooperation on carbon pricing, state regulators on the East Coast are now teaming up on what’s called the Transportation & Climate Initiative to curb emissions from the transportation sector.  

A Fair and Just Energy Transition:

The shift to less carbon-intensive energy sources is necessary but it also comes with the cost of dealing with the legacy of those energy sources, not only in terms of carbon pollution but also the impact it has on communities that once depended on them as a source of jobs and income. Already, coal states are faced with the shuttering of coal mines and power plants as natural gas has become far cheaper to produce and use. As a result, a few states have looked to special bonds and grant programs to aid communities and ratepayers through the energy transition.

This year New Mexico passed SB 489, a clean energy package that, in addition to setting the state’s 100% zero-carbon mandates, creates a bond program to securitize coal plants that are being closed down due to rising costs. The program ensures that the closure of the facility does not unduly impact ratepayers with rising utility bills, and establishes an economic development assistance fund, a displaced worker assistance fund, and an Energy Transition Indian Affairs Fund to specifically support impacted tribal communities. Colorado was the first state to pursue this policy model in 2018 and legislators have reintroduced it this year as HB19-1037. Montana also has a securitization bill in the works, HB 467. For more background on securitization, the Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Institute put together a nice in-depth report of the policy framework.

In Minnesota, Republican legislators introduced HF 1919 that would establish a community energy transition grant program. The program would distribute up to $2 million in funding each year in grants to county, municipal, and tribal governments that host an electric generating plant powered by coal, nuclear energy, or natural gas. The intent of these grants is to foster economic development in communities impacted by the loss of jobs and income from plant closures, with money going towards research and studies, planning, capital improvements, business incentives, and job training programs.

Takeaways:

The policy landscape for reducing GHG emissions is wide and varied, due to the political and economic realities of each state. Though success has also been mixed, states are continually moving the needle forward, seeking new creative ways of transitioning to a net-zero economy while softening the real community impacts of that transition.

In the next post, we’ll share how this energy transition is tied to a broader effort on building out sustainable 21st-century infrastructure and industries.