Reduce Carbon Pollution at the State Level

August 05, 2015

Heliostats surround Tower 1 at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert, Nevada
Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images for Bechtel

Several pioneering states have been tackling the threat of climate change for many years now, creating programs to cut carbon pollution—and their successes have helped pave the way for the federal government to set national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Now all 50 states will play a role in protecting communities from extreme weather and other climate threats.

NRDC helped the early pioneering states create their carbon-reduction programs, and we continue to help implement and strengthen them. More than a decade ago, we began working with policymakers in California to draft and pass the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The law, also known as AB 32, calls for reducing greenhouse gas pollution to 1990 levels by 2020—roughly a 15 percent reduction from business-as-usual levels—through a suite of complementary measures, including low-carbon fuel standards, renewable energy targets, energy-efficiency programs, and a pollution-allowances cap-and-trade system.

Our experts have helped craft and implement these measures. We also defend them from political and legal attack when necessary, outlining the economic and public-health benefits that come with carbon reductions. We also urge California to build on its success. We supported Governor Jerry Brown’s April 2015 Executive Order that raises the state’s greenhouse gases (GHG) reduction target to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, as well as legislation signed into law later that year to double energy-efficiency savings and require at least half of California's energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. 

Around the same time we were helping California develop its climate change law, NRDC reached out to leaders in several Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and began designing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to cut carbon pollution from power plants. Launched in 2009, the initiative now includes nine states, which have already reduced carbon pollution by 40 percent below 2005 levels. By 2020, power plant carbon emissions in these states is projected to be half of the 2005 levels. We are now encouraging states to expand RGGI to include other major sources of carbon pollution.

Both California and RGGI use a cap-and-trade approach that involves buying or trading a steadily decreasing amount of carbon pollution allowances to comply with emissions limits, and we work to ensure states wisely invest the auction proceeds in programs that rapidly expand renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other programs that benefit consumers of all income levels and the environment.

As the rest of the country begins meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on power plant emissions, NRDC shares the lessons from California and RGGI with state policymakers. We also urge them to follow California and RGGI’s example and set even more ambitious reduction targets that will deliver even greater benefits to their states.