Governors Move Quickly to Pick Up Slack on Climate Action

Just hours after President Trump announced his reckless decision to abandon the Paris climate agreement, governors across the country stepped forward to fill the vacuum. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced the formation of the US Climate Alliance, a fast-growing group of states committed to upholding the goals of Paris and taking aggressive action on climate change.

In light of the President’s decision, state and local leadership on climate action is more vital than ever before. It is in statehouses where critical choices on climate action are made. The decisions to create ambitious state renewable energy requirements, to encourage a utility to promote energy efficiency, to work together with other states to reduce carbon pollution, all happen independently of the federal government. When states successfully reduce pollution while growing their economies, they not only make a better life for their residents, but set a model for others to emulate, both in the United States and abroad.

The three leading states behind the Alliance represent 68 million people and 20 percent of the United States GDP. California alone is the world’s sixth largest economy—a growth achieved with some of the most ambitious climate policies in the world. So far the Alliance already has 13 members and is growing rapidly. In addition to the three founding states, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts have joined, the last two led by Republican governors. Puerto Rico has also joined the Alliance. Other governors have also come forward to reiterate their support for the goals of the Paris accord, including the governor of Colorado and the Republican governor of Maryland.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said that his state is “aggressively working to exceed the goals of the Paris Agreement on the state level, and that he “looks forward to continued, bipartisan collaboration with other states to protect the environment, grow the economy and deliver a brighter future to the next generation." Massachusetts has been named the most energy efficient state for 6 years running.  

In New York, Governor Cuomo followed up with an announcement that New York State is launching a climate jobs initiative, which will include a $1.5 billion investment in renewable energy and a goal to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020.

New York and the other Northeastern states that have joined the alliance are already part of the bipartisan Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a successful collaboration between 9 states to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the power sector through a mandatory, market-based program. Since 2009, RGGI has helped cut carbon pollution from power plants in the region by 37 percent. The program has added at least $2.9 billion in regional economic growth; created health benefits worth $10 billion; produced 30,000 new job-years (a job year is one year of full-time employment); and saved consumers at least $618 million on energy, with $4 billion more expected in the years to come. Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 3.4 percent, while prices in other non-RGGI states rose by an average of 7.2 percent—silencing critics.

Similarly, California, Washington, Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia are collaborating on the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy an agreement signed in 2013 to set regional climate goals and build the world’s largest market for clean fuels.

In addition to state action, 211 U.S. mayors, representing 54 million people, have also committed to uphold and honor the Paris Agreement, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy. As my colleague Shelley Poticha, who heads NRDC’s Urban Solutions program, wrote, local leaders are paramount to successful climate action, as they focus on putting people first in climate efforts, from investing in transit infrastructure to cutting energy waste in large buildings.

A Rhodium Group study shows that the U.S. can stay on track to meet climate goals in the short to medium term, even without the Clean Power Plan—which was the cornerstone of our Paris Agreement commitment—if enough states adopt ambitious climate and clean energy goals.

NRDC will be working harder than ever to make that happen, leveraging the success of states that are using smart climate policy to cut pollution and spur economic growth. Spreading similarly ambitious policies to more states in each region will be key to staying on track with global climate action, at least in the near future.

But in the longer term, we need strong federal policy to guide our transition to a cleaner energy future. With bold leadership and commitment at the state level, we can move ahead—until we get the federal climate leadership that this country so urgently needs.  

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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