State Leadership Fuels Carbon Reduction, Clean Energy Booms

May 15, 2019

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last week signed into law an unprecedented suite of clean energy legislation setting aggressive timelines to phase out the use of coal in the state by 2025, achieve a carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2030, and transition to a 100-percent clean electricity supply by 2045.

Inslee’s action is among the latest in a flurry of state actions demonstrating leadership that focuses on decarbonizing their economies and transforming their energy landscapes. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the actions taken across the nation will create jobs, improve health outcomes, and ensure that workers and vulnerable communities will benefit from changes. This activism at the state level can also provide opportunities for stakeholders to pursue policies that recognize the contributions that working agricultural and forest lands can make in addressing the challenges of climate change.

Inslee co-founded the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of what is now 24 governors of states that are leading the way towards new climate solutions and taking concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The alliance was born after President Trump declared in June 2017 his intent to remove the United States from the Paris climate accord.

The alliance, which added Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf late last month, represents 55 percent of the U.S. population, an $11.7 trillion economy, and 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The climate and clean energy policies of alliance states have created more than 1.7 million renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs, equivalent to more than 60 percent of all clean energy jobs in the United States.

Elsewhere, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law late last month a measure that requires energy generated and used in Nevada to come from at least 50 percent clean energy sources by 2030, up from 25 percent by 2025. While reducing carbon emissions, the statute will also enable the state to maintain what is reported to be the fastest job growth in the country for clean energy like solar, geothermal and wind.

On April 19, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board approved a new regulation to reduce and cap carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from large fossil fuel fired electric power generating facilities. When implemented, the regulation will reduce carbon emissions from those facilities by 30 percent by 2030, with an initial budget of 28 million tons of CO2. Virginia will become the 12th state in the nation, and the first southern state, to regulate carbon pollution.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign bills passed by the legislature that would set a non-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy by 90 percent by 2050, and set a non-binding 100 percent clean energy target for the electric sector by 2050.

A bill forwarded to the Maine legislature from Gov. Janet Mills would reduce GHG emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The measure would ultimately direct the state to source 100 percent of its electric power from renewables by 2050. The measure would also create a Maine Climate Council, which would include leaders from various sectors, including agriculture, to develop a strategy to meet the objectives.

In New Mexico, officials with PNM, the state’s largest utility, stood alongside Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to announce a company goal to generate electricity 100-percent emission free by 2040, depending upon regulatory approval. The PNM announcement comes a month after Lujan Grisham signed into law a measure that directs investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives to source at least 50 percent of their electricity from emission-free, renewable energy by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040. Utilities must meet a 100-percent renewable standard by 2045, while electric cooperatives have until 2050 to meet the zero-carbon requirement.

The swelling momentum of state leadership pushing forward climate issues and solutions, as well as growing engagement with the challenges of climate change on Capitol Hill, shows there is a surging opportunity for stakeholders from the ag and forestry sectors, which are among the biggest industries and power users in many states, to impress upon their elected representatives of the need for policies that support their role in addressing climate change. That includes programs and funding mechanisms that promote the production of biofuels that have been shown to be much lower in GHG emissions than petroleum-based fuels, land management practices that sequester carbon in the soil, the capture of methane from livestock operations for conversion to renewable natural gas, forest management practices that enhance production while sequestering carbon, and greater implementation of on-farm clean, renewable energy installations that, according to the latest U.S. agriculture census, doubled to more than 130,000 farms between 2012 and 2017.

Proper policy and regulatory and financial drivers can enable farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to be a significant force in the delivery of low-cost, near-term sustainability solutions that can provides economic and environmental benefits across our nation. Call on Congress and your state legislators to give those stakeholders the opportunity to deliver those benefits.

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