As President Donald Trump scales down federal efforts to combat climate change, states are ramping up.
California’s Air Resources Board broke with Trump and voted to uphold auto fuel efficiency rules, while Illinois offered a bail out to carbon-free nuclear producers. Iowa and Michigan have moved to increase incentives for renewable energy, and Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan is poised to sign a statewide ban on fracking.
“Climate change is real and will not be wished away by rhetoric or denial,” California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement.
In statehouses across the country, both Republican and Democratic leaders are using their own regulatory powers and budgets to fill a void being left by Trump, whose order Tuesday rolled back many of President Barack Obama’s expansive initiatives to combat global warming.
"There will be continued and expanded efforts by states and localities throughout the country,” Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in an interview. “Those actions will vary widely in scope and magnitude. Some who are sitting on the fence may stand down. Others will pick up their efforts.”
Trump, with coal miners arrayed behind him, signed the sweeping executive order to begin the process of repealing the Clean Power Plan that would have required states to slash emissions from power plants. That rule was central to the U.S. plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and meet its global climate pledge.
“Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry,” Trump said of the regulation. “My administration is putting an end to the War on Coal.”
While 26 states sued to block that rule, bigger states like New York and California had intervened to support it. Now, with it on the way out, states are grappling on their own with issues like how to hook new solar or wind farms onto the grid, what to do with aging nuclear unable to compete with low-cost natural gas and whether or how to try to reduce carbon emissions without a federal prod.
In many Republican-led states — ranging from Texas to Illinois — solar, wind and energy efficiency have thrived as a way to cut electricity costs and boost jobs, not as a way to protect the planet. In other Republican states, lawmakers are pressing to roll back existing incentives for renewable energy, saying they want to protect coal and natural gas.
The result is likely "this weird Balkanization of the country where the states that are more coal friendly are going to do nothing,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit watchdog organization. But “states that are more likely to deal with air pollution issues are going to continue on their way."
Cities too are getting in on the act. Thirty cities including New York and Chicago jointly asked automakers for the cost and feasibility of providing 114,000 electric vehicles, including police cruisers, street sweepers and trash haulers, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is coordinating the effort. That would be comparable to about 72 percent of total U.S. plug-in sales last year.
“Cities and city leaders recognize how important it is to protect our environment, but we also recognize that this is not simply an environmental issue," said Matt Zone, a council member from Cleveland who serves as the president of the National League of Cities. “We stand ready to continue this work."
California last week said it would begin drafting a more-aggressive mandate for sales of zero-emission cars powered by batteries or hydrogen. A dozen other states that also adhere to California’s rules are expected to follow suit.
Earlier this month California also approved new methane regulations for the oil and natural gas sector, ordering cuts of as much as 45 percent over the next nine years. That stands in contrast to Trump’s announcement that the federal government would reconsider two methane rules established by Obama. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period.
Brown pledged to launch a state-funded satellite if Trump cuts off atmospheric climate research. And the head of the state’s Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, stood outside the U.S. Environemental Protection Agency headquarters earlier this month distributing fliers recruiting scientists to "come work for California" and "fight climate change" there.
The combination of auto-efficiency standards, power-plant rules and other regulations put in place under Obama would have resulted in steady reductions in U.S. carbon emissions through 2030, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group. With Trump’s move to change or rescind those measures, U.S. emissions are instead set to remain steady at 14 percent below the peak of 2005.
“It will largely fall to states, cities and companies to be the driving force of U.S. climate action,” the Rhodium analysts wrote. “Well-designed and well-coordinated action in states and cities could play a meaningful role in offsetting some federal policy-enabled emissions growth.”
In the Northeast, states are moving to tighten carbon limits imposed as part of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the country’s first carbon cap-and-trade program. But even those like-minded states have differences: Maryland balked at a proposal by Massachusetts to have a cap that falls by 5 percent a year, twice the current rate, according to the Washington Post.
"We need help, but in the hiatus we are going to work with California and all other willing partners to keep moving forward because this problem isn’t going away on its own," said Paul Miller, deputy director of Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of air quality agencies in the Northeast. "Even with the Clean Power Plan potentially gone, this plan is still in place and it’s moving forward."
In the weeks after the November election, four Republican-led Midwestern states moved to expand clean-energy incentives.
"They recognize that the electricity market is changing, wind and solar prices have come down and natural gas is cheap," Dick Munson of the Environmental Defense Fund said in an interview. There’s an “economic reason to turn to clean energy.”
Illinois passed legislation that provides incentives to its existing nuclear plants and doubles the state’s energy efficiency standard. That measure is forecast to achieve a 56 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions in the state’s power sector, almost twice what would have been required under the Clean Power Plan, according to Munson.
In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich vetoed legislation that would have stalled the state’s renewable portfolio standard, and, in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder boosted efficiency incentives and the renewable portfolio standard.
Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, an ally of Trump, unveiled the Iowa Energy Plan, which put a premium on increasing utility-scale wind and solar facilities in the state.
"The comprehensive new energy plan will help build on our past energy successes and reaffirms our commitment to maintaining Iowa’s energy leadership in the future," he said.
In Texas, the state with the largest greenhouse gas emissions in the nation, a combination of policies implemented years ago and market dynamics is leading to the kind of transformation that was envisaged by the Clean Power Plan — even as the political leaders eschew discussion of climate change. At one point last week, Texas wind generation supplied half the state’s power demand for the first time.
That’s a landmark for a state that consumes more coal than any other in the country. Wind generation capacity there has surged to more than 18,000 MW from just over 100 MW in 2000. And now solar is following along. Solar power in the state doubled to more than 1,200 MW last year and is forecast to rise six times over to more than 7,000 MW over the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
"When you enable the market and build the infrastructure, the right answers come to fore," said Michael Webber, an engineering professor at the University of Texas. "For Texas that’s been low-cost wind and solar and inexpensive natural gas."