Legislators from states all over America gathered in Seattle this week, and climate change was at the top of the agenda. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the largest non-partisan organization supporting state legislators, hosted the four day summit to explore the wide variety of issues that confront states. On Tuesday, lawmakers from around the country and across the political spectrum renewed NCSL's Climate Change Policy Resolution, which encourages a flexible, regionally-accessible federal climate plan with clear, achievable goals. It is heartening to see such a large gathering of state legislators embracing this kind of action on climate. It is especially great timing considering America's bold, historic step this week to tackle carbon pollution from power plants - a big topic of discussion for lawmakers at the conference.
The Clean Power Plan, released by President Obama on Monday, is one of the biggest steps we've taken as a country to address climate change. It will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels in 2030, make the air safer to breath, and help protect future generations from climate disasters. The EPA projects that in 2030, the Clean Power Plan will avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 1,700 hospital admissions. Plus the new standards are expected to generate thousands of homegrown jobs and, by 2030, will save the typical household about $85 every year on electricity bills. The Clean Power Plan is also backed by strong bipartisan support to limit carbon emissions from power plants. An ABC/Washington Post poll found that 70 percent of all Americans back federal efforts to reduce climate change pollution, and an AP/Yale University survey reported that half of all Republicans favor limits on carbon pollution.
The Clean Power Plan puts states in the driver's seat to decide how to reduce carbon pollution - governors need to submit initial plans to the US Environmental Protection Agency in September 2016. There are some key roles for legislators to assist governors as they chart a new clean energy future. A good first step for legislators is raising their voices in support of the Clean Power Plan, as many governors have already done. For example, Gov. Hassan of New Hampshire is looking forward to "continuing to build on our efforts to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment." Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado declared that "Clean air is important is important to all of Colorado and building on the work that's already done, we will continue on the path of improving our local air quality." Gov. Wolf of Pennsylvania "is committed to making the Clean Power Plan work for Pennsylvania." Lawmakers have already started down this path through approval of the NCSL resolution.
Legislators will also play an important role in supporting state-specific policies that will boost renewable energy development and adoption of energy efficiency in their states. In Illinois for example, more than 85 state lawmakers along with more than 150 business leaders and other groups have banded together to urge passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill - legislation that would ready the state for the Clean Power Plan by adopting a mass-based cap on emissions, boosting the share of power coming from renewable sources to 35% by 2030 and cutting energy waste by 20% through expanded energy efficiency programs. Clean energy standards in states are an important complement to a governor's state plan to reduce carbon pollution.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, legislators can vote down bills aiming to interfere with states' ability to move forward on the Clean Power Plan. Some proposed legislation would create red tape to delay or block state carbon plans; others would handcuff governors and prop up the coal industry while hamstringing investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Legislators should avoid adding red tape and delays to the state planning process, and keep all options on the table for cleaning up carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan provides ample flexibility to meet pollution limits, and legislators should ensure the state can take full advantage of those benefits.
By embracing climate action, as their latest resolution does, legislators can return home with the satisfaction of being on the right path. Lawmakers should encourage governors to act early and start reaping the benefits of the Clean Power Plan as soon as possible. With states taking the lead on climate solutions and clean energy, we have the chance to shield the next generation from climate change.