State Programs Can Support Local Climate Action

State-level programs that provide assistance to communities to ramp up local action on climate and clean energy can result in big benefits, both for states and the localities they support. NRDC is releasing a fact sheet today that describes how these partnerships work and highlights successful models across the country.

With local jurisdictions stepping up in ever-increasing numbers to make climate and clean energy policy commitments—especially in light of the Trump administration’s undermining of climate initiatives at the federal level—state-local partnerships can help cities, towns and counties meet their climate goals by providing additional technical capacity and other assistance.

Indeed, more than 400 mayors, representing more than 70 million Americans have signed on to the Climate Mayors network, a group committed to upholding the Paris Agreement climate goals. State programs targeting and supporting local initiatives can fill resource gaps and empower our hometowns with the tools they need to help fight the climate challenge, while reaping tons of other benefits in the process, including the creation of good, local jobs and energy cost savings for residents and businesses. 

U.S. Department of Energy

Creating Tangible Benefits

These programs have already demonstrated just what a “state-local” clean energy partnership can accomplish and how they create a win for all, with benefits that accrue to both states and localities.

Local communities are opting into these programs in overwhelming numbers, ratcheting up clean energy actions and impressive results. In New Jersey, more than 400 communities have successfully implemented upwards of 9,000 sustainability actions (including tracking and reducing energy use, and installing electric vehicle charging stations) through the Sustainable Jersey program, with a whopping 89 percent of the state’s population living in a registered or certified community. Through the Massachusetts Green Communities program, in which more than two-thirds of municipalities in the state participate, 24 communities have achieved their goal of reducing municipal energy use by at least 20 percent, and there was an 11 percent decrease in aggregate energy consumption among participants statewide in 2017 alone.

Optimizing Different Approaches

There is no “one-size fits all” approach for state-local clean energy programs: rather, there are a variety of options for states to choose from in determining which framework best fits their particular circumstances.

New York’s Clean Energy Communities (CEC) program employs a “certification” approach, whereby communities are required to complete a certain number of key sustainability and clean energy initiatives in order to be certified and qualify for additional incentives. The program, which launched in August 2016, requires that communities complete four out of 10 high impact action items, such as benchmarking municipal building energy performance, having building inspectors undergo code enforcement training, or deploying electric vehicle charging stations. Once certified, communities are eligible for grants to conduct other clean energy projects. The program has been immensely successful, with more than 550 communities participating and more than 270 communities having been certified.

Another successful model is based on an “information-sharing and collaboration” approach, which facilitates the sharing of best practices and experience in communities across states. Minnesota GreenStep Cities, for example, is managed by a public-private partnership and focuses on encouraging cities to implement 29 best practices within five categories—Buildings & Lighting, Land Use, Transportation, Environmental Management, and Resilient Economic Development. Each best practice can be implemented by completing one or more actions at a 1-, 2- or 3-star level. These actions are tailored to all Minnesota cities, focus on cost savings and energy use reduction, and encourage civic innovation. Over 125 Minnesota cities currently participate in the program.

Working Alongside Other Programs to Empower Local Communities

The state-local programs described in our fact sheet are not the only ways we can empower local communities to take action on climate and clean energy. The American Cities’ Climate Challenge (ACCC), a $70 million, two-year program, is supporting 25 cities’ efforts to tackle climate change and promote clean energy deployment. That initiative—recently launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies, NRDC, and Delivery Associates, joined by several other partners—is expected to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 million metric tons by 2025 in the participating cities

The ACCC is building upon the foundational work of the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of the NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation that advanced policies to scale up large building energy efficiency in 20 cities across the country. By 2030, actions planned and underway among the twenty Project cities could save building owners and tenants more than $1.5 billion annually and reduce carbon pollution by 9.6 million metric tons, equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road for a year.

We need all hands on deck to tackle the tremendous challenge of our climate crisis. Cities and other local jurisdictions are a key part of the solution and can get clean energy projects and policies off the ground and across the finish line with the help of state-level programs that provide needed capacity and resources. As these partnerships continue to stretch across the country, from Florida to California and many places in between, we all win.

About the Authors

Donna De Costanzo

Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Samantha Wilt

Senior Policy Analyst, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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