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 Governor Jerry Brown and New York Governor 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.”
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