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The States Lead On Climate Change Action

A windfarm sillouhetted against the setting sun

With the Trump administration inactive when it comes to climate change, the onus falls on states to enact good policies for climate change action. The good news is that one in three Americans now live in a state or city committed to 100 percent clean energy. Since 2008, local and statement commitments have resulted in nearly doubling renewable energy generation in the U.S. Since 2000, state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) have driven about 50 percent of U.S. renewable energy generation and capacity.

States step up on climate change action

Fifteen states and territories enacted legislation or signed executive actions to progress toward 100 percent clean energy. Ten states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, put 100 percent clean energy targets into law. Six states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, are committed by law to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 or earlier. Twenty-six states passed Energy Efficiency Resource Standards that mandate that utilities develop programs to achieve a certain amount of annual energy savings. The commitments of local and state governments could help the U.S. meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Iowa passed the first RPS in 1983 with a target of 105 megawatts by 1998. Now, 31 states, including D.C. and P.R., have an RPS, which represents almost 220 million people (65 percent of the U.S. population). Thirteen of those states have an energy portfolio with over 50 percent renewable energy. Six of the states have targets of 80 percent or more, and four have goals of 100 percent renewable energy. Since 2018, 14 states have increased their RPS requirements. Four states (California, New Mexico, New York, and Washington) passed legislation requiring 100 percent renewable energy. Nevada passed a 100 percent clean energy goal, and Maine updated its RPS to 100 percent renewable by 2050. Six states set targets through executive orders to achieve 100 percent clean electricity.

Twenty-four states, including D.C., pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas or carbon emission with specific targets. Five states in the last two years passed bills either requiring or laying out plans to reach carbon neutrality or reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent. Colorado set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution by at least 90 percent.

Virginia passed 100 percent clean energy legislation

In April, Virginia became the latest state, and the first state in the South, to enact 100 percent clean energy legislation. The Virginia Clean Economy Act commits to reducing greenhouse gas pollution in the power sector. It sets targets for energy storage and offshore wind deployment and requires Dominion Energy Virginia and American Electric Power to set a schedule to retire electricity sources in the state that emit carbon as a by-product of combusting fuel to generate power and requires them to obtain energy from solar or wind power. It also requires American Electric Power and Dominion Energy Virginia to either build or acquire 400 and 2,700 megawatts of energy storage capacity, respectively.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act establishes an energy efficiency standard that requires investor-owned electric utilities to achieve annual energy efficiency savings, starting in 2022 at 0.5 percent for American Electric Power and 1.25 percent for Dominion Energy Virginia.

Oregon governor signs executive order setting emissions goals

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order earlier this year, setting greenhouse gas emissions goals and directing state agencies to put measures in place to lower the state’s emissions to meet the goals. The executive order updated the state’s carbon emissions goals, setting a target of a 45 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2035, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The executive order outlines ways that the state can meet the targets, including setting sector-specific caps on climate emissions for transportation fuels, natural gas, and large industrial polluters. The state will more than double its Clean Fuels Program to reduce climate pollution from cars and trucks by 20 percent by 2030 and 25 percent by 2035. The targets represent the most ambitious clean fuels goal in the U.S.

Across the country, climate change action at the sub-national level serves as a model for moving forward despite federal inaction.

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