RL33812 - Climate Change: Action by States To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions
23-Nov-2007; Jonathan L. Ramseur; 28 p.
Update: Previous releases:
August 29, 2007
April 27, 2007
Abstract: In the absence of a federal climate change program, a number of states have taken actions that directly address greenhouse gases (GHGs). States’ efforts cover a wide range of policies. Although much of the early activity was largely symbolic, the more recent state actions have been more pragmatic. The states’ motivations may be as diverse as the actions themselves. Some states are motivated by projections of climatic changes, while others expect their policies to provide economic opportunities or other co-benefits, such as improvements in air quality, traffic congestion, and energy security. Another driver behind state action is the possibility of catalyzing federal legislation.
Three states — California, Hawaii, and New Jersey — have passed laws establishing mandatory, statewide GHG emission limits. However, the critical elements of these programs are still being developed. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a partnership of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, sets up a cap-and-trade system aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. RGGI takes effect in 2009. Six western states (and two Canadian provinces) have formed the Western Climate Initiative, and are in the early stages of developing a regional GHG emission reduction program.
California has addressed GHG emissions on several fronts. To complement its statewide emissions reduction regime, California established GHG performance standards that would effectively limit the use of coal-generated electricity in California (Washington passed similar legislation in 2007). In 2004, California issued regulations to reduce greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. At least 12 other states have indicated they intend to follow California’s new vehicle requirements. In addition, the state has also taken action to reduce the carbon intensity in its transportation fuels.
Predicting the precise consequences of the state-led climate change actions is difficult. Some actions, particularly the mandatory emission reductions, may create economic effects, especially in the automotive manufacturing and electricitygenerating sectors. Many observers suggest that the quantity and range of state actions will catalyze federal activity. Industry stakeholders are especially concerned that the states will create a patchwork of climate change regulations across the nation. This prospect is causing some industry leaders to call for a federal climate change program. If Congress seeks to establish a federal program, the experiences and lessons learned in the states may be instructive.
Although some states are taking aggressive action, their possible emission reductions may be offset by increased emissions in states without mandatory reduction requirements. This is perhaps the central limitation of state climate change programs in actually affecting total greenhouse gas emissions. Legal challenges represent another obstacle for state programs, particularly for the more aggressive, mandatory programs.