In the absence of federal leadership on climate change in the United States the U.S. states have, in many cases, served as “laboratories of democracy” (to quote the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis), producing innovative climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. Though a Biden administration may prove more active at the federal level on this issue, states are likely to continue playing an important role in climate mitigation.
Thus far, 23 U.S. states have made some level of commitment to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions across their economies, and 37 states have adopted some form of a renewable portfolio standard, seeking to increase the share of renewables in their electricity mix. In the transportation sector, we have seen low-carbon fuel programs, vehicle emissions standards, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) programs. We have also seen a number of policies promoting energy efficiency in building construction.
However, we have also seen significant policy retrenchment and inertia when it comes to mitigation efforts. Staunch opposition to climate policy has led many states to enact symbolic policy that lacks the teeth to meet ambitious goals or mandates. Moreover, weak executive actions are immediately reversed with changing governors, and the climate denial and/or delay movement continues to flex its political muscle in the states, through groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Petroleum Institute (API) and its state-level affiliates, and the fossil fuel industry — including, to varying degrees, electric utilities. And then of course, we have a handful of states, mostly located in the Southeast region of the country, that have still done absolutely nothing on climate change, despite their being among the most geographically vulnerable to its more immediate, devastating effects.
This working group has the following research objectives: