State lawmakers across the country either have wrapped up their legislative sessions or are on the verge of what they refer to as sine die.
The result is a panoply of policy that’s mostly good, but also bad and ugly when it comes to our nation’s economy, environment and sustainability.
For the most part, states continue to be beacons of hope lighting and leading the way for our nation on climate and clean energy amid lack of leadership at the federal level. In doing so, the most forward-looking states are creating new jobs in clean energy, driving economic growth and investments — and helping all of us in the fight against climate change.
Backed up by cities and regional consortiums, state lawmakers this year made it easier to get renewable energy in some parts of the country. They increased energy efficiency standards to reduce waste and carbon emissions in others. And they expanded the availability of electric and other low-emission vehicles for consumers.
But in other parts of the country, they also gutted clean energy expansion plans to bail out utilities’ aging nuclear and fossil fuel plants; they tried to ban offshore wind, and in one case, they simply walked off the job to stop a vote on one of the country’s most promising climate change laws.
Here’s a closer look at some winners, losers and also-rans:
No state in the country has done a turnaround on clean energy like Nevada. Just four years ago, the Silver State passed solar policies so restrictive that they essentially drove the state’s huge solar industry out of the state (or out of business), putting thousands of Nevadans out of work as well. Nevadans learned that was a bad idea — economically, environmentally and otherwise. As a result, this year the state legislature passed a bunch of new climate and clean energy bills, including:
- A 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free by 2040 renewable portfolio standard for the state (SB 358 passed unanimously in both chambers).
- Stricter statewide greenhouse gas emissions reporting standards (SB 254)
- New laws designed to help schools get new electric buses; expand electric freight trucks and a study to bring more EVs to all Nevadans (AB377; SB299; SCR3)
This oil-and-gas state in recent years has fully grasped the economic importance of clean energy and protecting the Rocky Mountain air, water and environment that makes Colorado so special. This year, lawmakers passed smart policies that will:
- Expand energy efficiency, including updates to appliance energy efficiency standards and building codes to some of the highest in the country (HB19–1231, HB19–1260)
- Increase the availability of electric vehicles by expanding charging networks, tax credits and grants (SB19-077; HB19-1159; HB19-1198). This is on top of Gov. Jared Polis’ smart decision to sign Colorado onto the national Zero Emission Vehicle program that includes 10 other states.
- Sets new statewide targets for greenhouse gas emissions (HB19-1261) that will drive renewable energy growth.
Climate-centric Gov. Jay Inslee may have dropped out of the race for president, but his state is a clear winner when it comes to passing climate and clean energy policy this year. With encouragement from Inslee, the state legislature ended the 2019 session by passing a strong suite of climate policies that:
- Set a goal for 100 percent clean energy by 2045 (SB 5116)
- Phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HB 1112)
- Improves energy efficiency and reduces emissions from buildings (HB1257)
- Add new incentives for electric vehicles (HB 2042)
- Set new appliance energy efficiency standards (HB 1444).
No state in the country slid backward on climate and clean energy policy like Ohio in 2019. A single piece of legislation — HR6 — caused the Buckeye State to fumble on its clean energy future. The bill signed by Gov. Mike DeWine in late August does three things:
- It bails out money-losing coal and nuclear plants by levying new fees that will add thousands of dollars on the monthly bills of consumers and businesses.
- It reduces Ohio’s renewable energy standards from 12.5 percent to 8.5 percent, while simultaneously exempting big industrial users — aka some of the biggest users of energy — from the standard. Look for many of the state’s budding clean energy companies — and the 112,500 jobs they have created in Ohio — to cut jobs and operations.
- It guts the state’s energy efficiency standards, which traditionally have saved Ohio electricity consumers $3 for every $1 invested, and lets utilities off the hook for considering energy efficiency in the future plans.
It’s no wonder that Vox called Ohio HB 6 “the worst energy bill of the 21st century” and the Columbus Dispatch recently wrote, “The more you learn, the worse House Bill 6 looks.”
Oregon was on the verge of making history. After years of debate, lawmakers were poised to pass legislation that would make the state the second in the nation to implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up clean energy. Clean energy executives across the country, their eyes on expansion and creating new jobs, watched closely. Then Republican lawmakers decided to walk off the job rather than do what they were elected to do and vote on the proposal. Although Democrats have the majority in the state Senate, they needed at least two Republicans to at least be present to vote. The lawmakers who walked away from their duties may have had a Pyrrhic victory, but Oregon — and all of us — lost, at least for now.
Still in the race: Illinois
Illinois legislators ended their regular session in May, but they still have the opportunity to pass one of the nation’s most sweeping clean energy laws when they reconvene in October and November. The Clean Energy Jobs Act (SB2132/HB3624) would set the framework for the state to get 100 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2050. It also would expand solar programs and create programs to get more electric vehicles on the road.
Still in the race: North Carolina
North Carolina’s legislature is prone to be problematic on the clean energy issue. This is the legislature, after all, that tried to kill the state’s renewable portfolio standard despite that that standard made it the No. 2 solar state in the country. It’s the legislature that tried to ban offshore wind, ceding leadership to other Eastern Seaboard states. And it’s the legislature that in July tabled a simple, common-sense bill that would have increased energy efficiency in government buildings, saving taxpayers $1.1 billion in energy costs. The good news in North Carolina is that Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a sweeping order (Executive Order 80) designed to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent; increase the number of zero-emission vehicles to at least 80,000 and reduce energy waste in state-owned buildings by at least 40 percent. State cabinet officials are developing ways to implement these goals; hopefully the N.C. legislature will get on board as well.