Given the lack of federal leadership on climate issues, a number of states, cities and local entities such as utilities are taking it upon themselves to address the increase in the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The most recent move came in New Mexico, where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week signed into law the Energy Transition Act, landmark legislation that sets bold statewide renewable energy standards and establishes a pathway for a low-carbon energy transition away from coal. The measure also provides for workforce training and transition assistance for affected communities. Lujan Grisham contends that New Mexico will greatly benefit from both a cleaner environment and a more robust energy economy.
The state is now a national trailblazer on climate action, as the measure directs investor-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives to source at least 50 percent of their electricity from 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.
Elsewhere, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced earlier last month that his state has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of now 23 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In February, the governors of Maine, Wisconsin and Michigan announced their commitment to zero-carbon power by joining the alliance. Legislators in Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, New York and Florida, have also introduced 100 percent clean energy bills in 2019. Alliance member states (which include New Mexico) now represent 51 percent of the nation’s population and 57 percent – $11 trillion – of its economy.
Alliance states will aim to reduce GHG emissions by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 as set by the Paris pact signed by 196 countries and the European Union in Paris four years ago. These states also commit to the acceleration of new and existing policies to reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy technology deployment at the state and federal level.
To date, 107 U.S. cities, from Washington, DC, to Atlanta, GA, to St. Louis, MO, to Denver, CO, to San Francisco, CA, have committed to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy within the next few decades. Six cities are already 100-percent powered by renewables. Nearly a dozen counties have pledged to seek 100-percent renewable power.
About 48.7 million people, or 15.1 percent of the U.S. population, live in places that are committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. These cities, counties, and states will collectively reduce carbon pollution by 120 million metric tons as they move away from fossil fuels and repower themselves entirely with renewable energy – the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road or retiring 30 average coal-fired power plants.
Even utilities are steering toward low-carbon alternatives. In 2009, Idaho Power adopted a resolution to reduce carbon emissions. The utility, which serves 560,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, unveiled Tuesday a goal to provide 100-percent clean energy by 2045. Officials say the Clean Today, Cleaner Tomorrow initiative will serve to continue Idaho Power’s path away from coal and toward additional clean generation sources like wind and solar, as well as storage.
While these are examples of subnational governments providing bold leadership to advance a new energy future, more needs to be done. The International Energy Agency reported this week that global GHG emissions increased 2.3 percent in 2018, their fastest rise in a decade.
Many in Congress are signaling greater readiness to take on a changing climate, with or without White House leadership. Now is the time for stakeholders to reach out and show lawmakers on Capitol Hill that states, local governments and corporate America have already demonstrated viable, cost-saving solutions, whether they be clean energy alternatives, carbon-sequestering agricultural practices or energy efficiency. Congress needs to provide the policies that can make those solutions happen.
Ag and forestry sectors have for years been demonstrating the potential for opportunities to reduce, sequester or mitigate GHG emissions. These pathways include advanced land management practices, anaerobic digester systems, utilization of biofuels and renewable energy resources, among others. With the proper policy, regulatory and financial drivers, ag and forestry can accelerate and expand its role as a significant force in delivery of low-cost, near-term sustainability solutions that provides societal co-benefits.