How Local Laws are Making a Difference in America's Fight Against Climate Change
Climate change is a global issue that requires a collective effort to address. While international agreements and national policies are crucial in the fight against climate change, local governments are also playing a pivotal role. In recent years, many cities and states across the United States have implemented local laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable practices.
According to the World Resources Institute, over 200 American cities have committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050, with many of those cities signing actual legislation designed to make buildings cleaner, divert waste, and optimize energy efficiency. The Center for Energy Solutions also lists 24 states as having climate action plans in place that enact greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets
In this blog, we will explore how local laws are making a difference in America's fight against climate change by examining the innovative policies and initiatives being implemented by various cities in different states to address this pressing issue.
What is the State of CO2 Emissions in the United States?
The United States is the second largest emitter of CO2 in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States emitted approximately 5.1 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2019, accounting for approximately 15% of the world's total CO2 emissions. The majority of these emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and industrial purposes.
While the United States has made progress in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, it still has a long way to go to meet specific climate goals. The Biden administration has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, which has required significant changes in the country's energy systems and transportation infrastructure.
Fortunately, many states have implemented carbon reduction roadmaps and a few laws focused on reducing carbon emissions, improving energy efficiency, and optimizing current energy usage.
Are There National Laws In Place Related to Climate Change?
Nationally, the United States has been committed to rectifying climate change and the impact that people and their communities have on the environment for a long time. The Clean Air Act, passed in 1963, is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has been passed related to climate change which authorizes the EPA to regulate emissions of pollutants that contribute to climate change. Because of the Clean Air Act, the EPA and the Energy Information Association are able to provide annual up-to-date information on GHG emissions and create further legislation related to the environment.
While there are national laws and policies related to climate change in the U.S., their effectiveness has been limited by political gridlock and resistance to climate action at the federal level. As a result, many states and cities have taken the lead in implementing their own climate policies and initiatives.
What Local Laws Are Impacting Carbon Drawndown in the U.S.?
As we build a more sustainable future, following in the footsteps of states imposing local laws to combat climate change will be crucial, especially in the absence of more decisive federal action. For years, states have been addressing climate change through a wide range of policies at the state and regional levels to reduce GHG pollutants, develop clean energy resources, and promote more energy-efficient buildings and appliances, among other goals.
In recent years, a total of twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia have adopted specific greenhouse gas emission targets, positioning themselves to set roadmaps for local laws and further green legislation. To get a better understanding of specific local laws and their impact here are nine of those states and the work they're doing to meet GHG emission targets.
A leader in the world of sustainability is the state of California, which constantly updates local laws to meet climate goals. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently announced ambitious goals to achieve net-zero carbon pollution by 2045. This plan is designed to achieve net neutrality and is the most ambitious of any jurisdiction in the world, it also falls in line with the California Climate Commitment. This commitment is a set of world-leading actions that make plans to build out a renewable clean energy grid, achieve carbon neutrality, ramp up carbon removal and sequestration, protect Californians from harmful oil drilling, and invest $54 billion to forge an oil-free future.
As a result of these commitments, California would achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 and cut air pollution by 71%, reduce demand for all fossil fuels by 86%, and save Californians $200 billion (annually? Over what period?).
On the East coast, Connecticut has established itself as a leader in developing climate change legislation by passing several laws to better enable achieving GHG mitigation goals, and to prepare for climate-related events.
Since the early 2000s, the state of Connecticut has targeted reducing emissions state-wide and has approved acts setting new limit goals to achieving a GHG reduction of at least 45% below 2001's GHG emissions level by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
To achieve such tenacious goals, the state's climate action plan outlines specific strategies for reducing emissions in key sections such as transportation, buildings, and electricity. One strategy they've implemented is creating a Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) that incentivizes utilities to source a portion of their electricity from renewable sources like wind or solar. The RPS has a goal of generating 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, contributing even further to state-wide climate change acts.
In the Midwest, Illinois has become the first state to enact legislation to combat the climate crisis and build a sustainable economy for the future. In 2021, the governor of Illinois signed The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, putting the state on a path towards 100% renewable energy, that invests in training a diverse workforce for the future, institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections, and prioritizes meaningful ethics and transparency reforms.
The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act puts Illinois on the path to achieving 40% renewable energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040, requires coal-fired and oil-fired electric generating units to reach zero emissions by 2050, will create a coal-to-solar program, will invest in transition assistance funds, and so much more.
Another state on the east coast dedicated to sustainability and reducing climate change impacts is Massachusetts which has recently launched its Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) for 2025 and 2030. The 2025/2030 CECP represents the state's plans to achieve aggressive emissions reduction by 2025 and 2030 and outlines two main goals. The first goal is to reduce GHG emissions statewide to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The second goal is to increase the use of clean energy in Massachusetts to at least 35% of the state's total electricity consumption by 2030.In 2022, the state announced that it surpassed part of its first goal, reducing carbon emissions by a total of an estimated 31.4% below 1990 levels, and is closing in on a 33% target for 2025.
To achieve 2025 and beyond goals, the state has set a target for wind energy production, has introduced policies and programs to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and transportation, and is working to promote clean energy. These strategies are helping create a more sustainable for Massachusetts and serve as a model for other states to follow.
To protect the environment and the health of Minnesota residents, the state has been working with multiple agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They currently have one primary state law in place to combat climate change called The Next Generation Act, signed in 2007, which required the state to reduce GHG emissions statewide and set specific reduction goals.
- 15% reduction from 2005 levels by 2015
- 30% reduction by 2025
- 80% reduction by 2050
Unfortunately, the state missed its goal in 2015 and is currently not on track to meet overall reduction goals. As a result, there has been further pressure from other government agencies to make efforts in improving efficiency in other areas such as supporting clean energy and energy efficiency and supplementing renewable energy standards in Minnesota.
Despite not reaching the first of its reduction goals, Minnesota has worked tediously to adopt policies and programs aimed at transitioning the state to electric vehicles, introducing energy-efficient tools, and creating more green jobs—all of which slowly move the needle toward positive environmental impact.
In 2007, New Jersey implemented the Global Warming Response Act (GRWA) aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 2006 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. By working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJEPA), the state was able to meet its 2020 goal before the deadline and updated the GRWA.
Along with enacting policy to combat increased carbon pollution, the NJEPA also recognizes that due to New Jersey's geographical location, the state and its residents are increasingly susceptible to increasing sea levels, increasing temperatures, chronic flooding, and more frequent and intense storms. Because of this vulnerability, New Jersey has also invested in Climate Change Resilience and Coastal Resilience Strategies, aimed at addressing issues specific to New Jersey's coast zone. With 80% of New Jersey's residents living in the coast zone, ensuring ways to combat climate change is imperative.
Overall, New Jersey's comprehensive approach to addressing climate change and promoting clean energy is helping to reduce emissions and create a more sustainable future for the state.
New York State is one of many states acknowledging the issue of high population densities and their impact on a city's carbon emissions. In New York City, for example, nearly 70% of greenhouse gas emissions result from the buildings sector. That means that more than 50,000 New York City buildings produce roughly 35.2 M tons of CO2 a year. Due to this staggering impact of GHG emissions, New York City Council has implemented legislation specifically targeting their buildings.
The Climate Mobilization Act, and its included laws such as Local Law 97, is intended to be New York's own "Green New Deal", aligns with the city's climate action plan, and represents New York City’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions to prevent more than 1.5°C total global warming, and pledging the city to carbon neutrality by 2050. As a result, building owners will need to submit annual reports on their CO2 emissions and pay fines when they're over the limit, incentivizing them to find strategies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
In Pennsylvania, local governments have been working on facilitating programs to combat climate change since 2004 when they established an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS), which requires a certain percentage of electricity sold in the state to come from alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower. At the time, the AEPS was a forward-thinking policy and since then Pennsylvania has continued to enact laws aimed at reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency.
In 2018 the state introduced the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan which included a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 from pre-2005 levels. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection rising sea levels and warming winters are driving the state to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation and electricity generation, which together produce approximately 50% of the state’s total carbon output.
Over the next two decades, Pennsylvania will implement strategies to tackle this carbon reduction such as incentivizing building electrification and implementing a multi-state memorandum of understanding to make all vehicle sales zero emissions by 2050.
On the west coast, the state of Washington is another state that has specifically targeted GHG emissions produced from buildings by signing the Washington State Clean Buildings Act (HB 1257.) The clean building law aims to reduce carbon emissions from buildings in Washington state that are larger than 20,000 square feet and sets targets for energy efficiency and sustainable construction projects. As a result of this act, Washington state has created a Clean Buildings Energy Performance Standard and established energy use intensity targets (EUIt) specific to different building types.
Washington's goal in creating such laws is to reduce GHG emissions by 95% by 2050 in order to protect the state's environment and economy. Notably, the state has also recently signed a Climate Commitment Act (CCA) which aims to cap and further reduce GHG emissions from Washington's largest emitting sources and industries, making it the second state in the nation to create such a program. The CCA is providing transition and incentive programs to help facilitate the law and move Washington toward meeting its goals.
Achieving GHG Targets With Energy Optimization Tools
As the world progresses toward a greener future, the need to take charge within local governments and communities will be crucial. Without legislation leading the U.S. at the federal level, it's up to individual states to implement and enact policies targeted at improving our impact on the environment.
With half of America on climate action plans, the strategies we use for carbon drawdown will need to be agile, adaptable, and easy to use. This need has resulted in emerging technology making its way into new use cases, such as for energy optimization and reducing carbon emissions. Luckily, technology like this has proven to help optimize one of the most energy-consuming things, the commercial building.
If you're interested in learning more about how technology is being used to reduce CO2 emissions, check out our recent blogs or schedule a call to chat with someone on our team.