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Is Progress Stalled on Clean Energy? Nah. Look at What States are Doing.

, former president | April 20, 2017, 12:02 am EDT
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This post is a part of a series on Clean Energy Momentum

There is a lot of discouraging news coming from Washington DC these days when it comes to addressing climate change. The Trump administration has vowed to repeal key policies to lower greenhouse gas emissions (such as the Clean Power Plan), and is re-opening, which may mean “weakening,” others (such as fuel economy standards for cars). The head of the EPA (the EPA!) is urging President Trump to pull out of the international Paris Agreement. And his budget director thinks that funding climate science research is a waste of money.

Yet, when one leaves the beltway, one sees progress. From many businesses that are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and bringing products and technologies to market that make cleaner forms of energy available and cost-effective. From cities that are using their powers of planning, zoning, and municipal purchasing to create sustainable cities.

And from state governments, which have all the tools they need to transition to clean energy. States can establish overall greenhouse gas reduction goals, and back those goals with laws, regulations and incentives. States can put a price on carbon, either acting individually (California) or regionally (RGGI). States have pervasive control over electric generation through their regulation of utilities, and can use energy efficiency standards, renewable portfolio standards, long-term contracting requirements, and net metering rules to mandate or incent efficient and renewable energy.

States issue building codes, which they can use to make buildings more energy efficient. States can directly invest in infrastructure, such as mass transit and EV charging stations, to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. And if they follow California’s lead, they can require cars sold in their states to be fuel efficient and/or electric.

As UCS’s Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking shows, many states are using these tools effectively, and making dramatic progress on the ground. And while many of the leaders are the blue coastal states you might expect, it is very heartening to see that success has geographic and political diversity.

Some salient examples: South Dakota has the highest percentage of in-state generation from renewables, while Wyoming has the most renewable energy coming on line in the next few years. Iowa does the most to help businesses purchase renewable energy. Arizona is a leader in efficiency. Texas invested $7 billion to build transmission lines, making it by far the largest generator of wind energy in the country.

It is clear that on the state level, in sharp contrast to Washington, DC, there is bi-partisan support for clean energy. Whether motivated to avert climate impacts, reap air quality benefits, create new jobs or diversify the energy supply, a large and growing number of states are using the tools they possess to make progress. And that is at least a partial antidote to the bad news coming from Congress and the Trump administration.

That being said, the state ranking also reveals the need for improvement. Many states do not have greenhouse gas reduction goals or a set of laws to achieve them. Sales of electric vehicles as an overall percentage of the fleet are low in all states. Many southern and southwestern states are not taking advantage of a resource—plentiful sun—and have very low penetration of rooftop solar. Many northern states are wasting energy and money because they don’t have strong energy efficiency targets.

My hope is that this new analysis, and the pressure that can be exerted by active and engaged citizens, will help broaden the areas in which all states can succeed, and turn the state laggards into leaders. At a time when progress in Washington, DC has stalled, this is our best path forward.

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