U.S. State & Regional Level Climate Policies

The United States has a number of initiatives as well as local, state, and federal policies, established to regulate the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Due to the decentralized nature of the country’s governmental structure, efforts at mitigation tend to vary in number, level of aggressiveness, and structure, depending on the state or region.

One common criticism of the United States’ approach to climate policy is its current reliance on executive orders and centralized actions.  Arguably, the nation’s primary efforts may be summed up through presidential direction of federal agencies like the EPA to target anthropogenic climate forcers.  However, there are also a great number of state-level efforts to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions—many of which are focused on energy production and energy efficiency.

Renewable Portfolio Standards

One of the most prevalent state-level climate initiatives is the renewable portfolio standard.  States that participate in this type of effort set a fixed percentage of their energy production that must be derived from renewable energy sources.  Depending on the state, any of the following may qualify as an “eligible” renewable:

  • Wind
  • CSP
  • Distributed PV
  • Centralized PV
  • Biomass
  • Hydroelectric
  • Geothermal
  • Landfill Gas
  • Ocean/Tidal

Utilities have the responsibility of ensuring that their assigned percentages of an RPS are met through the sale of these resources.  Alternatively, some utilities must not meet their portion of the RPS through retail sales, but rather through a certain amount of renewable generation capacity (e.g., customer-owned distributed PV may count as such, in this situation).

California’s Approach to Climate Change

By and far, California is one of the most progressive states regarding climate change.  Boasting policies targeting greenhouse gas emissions on the whole (a statewide cap), establishing a cap-and-trade system, setting renewable portfolio standards, and enforcing strict building efficiency codes, the state has given itself a name for being environmentally aware and forward-thinking with regards to greenhouse gas emissions.   In particular, California’s Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), which was passed by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, mandated that the state reach 1990 emissions levels by 2020.  As part of the actions taken to meet this goal, the government established a cap-and-trade program that went into effect in 2012.  Despite widespread skepticism regarding such legislation in the United States (as demonstrated by, for example, the failed Waxman-Markey bill), this program was rolled out without issues and continues to function effectively today.

On a regional level, California has recently engaged with Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast Collaborative, an initiative to address the need for sustainability in the area.  Together, these actors have released the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy.  This document outlines unique state strategies targeting greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, each player has agreed to initiate or, if already established, maintain, a carbon-pricing plan to disincentivize high levels of fossil fuel consumption and encourage efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and conservation.

Other Regional Efforts

Other regional efforts in the United States include the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Western Climate Initiative (California, British Columbia, Quebec—down from its original list of 24 participant states/provinces), the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, and the Transportation and Climate Initiative (housed in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic).  Each of these organizations has a mission statement asserting the recognized need and will to reduce its participants’ greenhouse gas emissions.

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