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States take the lead on climate change

October 03, 2019
By: Ellen Marrison

When Gov. Janet Mills addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23, it was the first time a sitting governor of Maine has been asked to address the body. She had been invited as part of her participation in the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, and has made tackling climate change and embracing renewable energy key priorities of her administration. She is not the only governor stepping into the role where the federal government has backed out. Twenty five states are now part of the United States Climate Alliance; a collection of states that have committed to taking action that addresses the climate challenge and implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreements, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Mills, along with governors from Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, all joined this year. They are part of the increasing action seen across the states in clean energy, climate change and carbon reduction. This story takes a look at some of the 2019 developments in the states.


A standoff between the Trump administration and California centered on emission standards, with the Trump administration saying only the federal government could set tailpipe emission standards and the Environmental Protection Agency announcing earlier this month that it would withdraw the 2013 Clean Air Act waiver that enabled California to set its own tailpipe greenhouse gas emission standards. California and 22 additional states in turn sued the Trump administration to preserve the state’s power to set tougher standards. While 13 other states follow the California standard, four car companies (BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen) signed an agreement with the state to meet tougher emission requirements than that set by the federal government.


Colorado this year amended existing legislation dealing with air quality, adding language that includes establishing statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals to achieve, at a minimum, a 26 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas pollution by 2025, a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and a 90 percent reduction by 2050, measured relative to 2005 statewide levels.


Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order on Sept. 5 that expands the Governor’s Council on Climate Change and directs state regulators to evaluate pathways to transition to 100 percent clean energy grid by 2040.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this year created the position of a Chief Resilience Officer to help the state prepare for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise.  


Gov. Janet Mills has pledged to have carbon-neutral economy by 2045 and has set goals for Maine to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources and reduce overall emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Mills also created the Maine Climate Council to develop an action plan to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, signed legislation to restore net metering and incentivize the growth of solar power in the state, and signed other laws that are intended to help renewable energy in Maine, create clean energy jobs, and fight climate change.


Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order creating the Montana Climate Solutions Council, a group of stakeholders from a number of sectors including energy and research, local governments and environmental groups, which is charged with developing recommendations that include an interim goal of carbon neutrality for the electrical sector by 2035.

New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy continues to develop initiatives begun through his 2018 Executive Order #8 on Offshore Wind and in June this year the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) selected the state’s first and offshore wind energy project, Ocean Wind, which was awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (OREC) for 1,100 MW and will provide more than half a million homes in New Jersey with clean energy. Additional project awards are set for 2020 and 2022. Murphy also returned New Jersey to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, of which it had been a charter member before Gov. Chris Christie withdrew the state in 2012.

New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, after joining the U.S. Climate Alliance in January, also called for a new climate change task force to evaluate potential policies and regulations assessing the impacts of climate change and to devise mitigation measures. She signed the Energy Transition Act in March, which will require the state to generate 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free resources by 2045 and increases the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030, with a goal of 80 percent by 2040.

New York

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in July that established a New York State Climate Council, which has three years to recommend mandates, regulations, incentives and other measures, as well as prepare and approve a scoping plan outlining the recommendations for attaining the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits. The renewable energy program set out in the legislation also calls for procurement of at least nine gigawatts of offshore wind electricity generation by 2035, six gigawatts of photovoltaic solar generation by 2025 and support of three gigawatts of statewide energy storage capacity by 2030, and will require utilities to get 70 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Former Vice President Al Gore who was present for the signing, called the legislation, “the most ambitious, the most well-crafted legislation in the country.”


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in January setting Pennsylvania’s first statewide climate goals to strive to achieve a 26 percent reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels statewide by 2025, and an 80 percent reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and established the GreenGov Council to boost green and sustainable practices in state government and help achieve the goals set in the executive order. In April, when Pennsylvania became the 24th state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, the governor also released a new state climate action plan that describes over 100 actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order on Sept. 17, establishing goals and targets for clean energy deployment, including a goal that by 2030, 30 percent of the state’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent will be produced by carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear. The order also calls for the development of an energy workforce plan that supports the growing needs and technological advancements of the clean energy sector, including specific recommendations for creating pathways out of poverty through careers in renewable energy and energy efficiency.


To address clean energy in the state, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order in August that creates the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy and sets a goal of ensuring all electricity consumed within the state is 100 percent carbon-free by 2050.

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsinclean energy, climate change, cleantech, policy, energy, emissions