NEW ORLEANS — New and recently re-elected Democratic governors plan a series of aggressive steps to address climate change and bolster renewable energy industries in their states.
The new climate plans come amid federal and international reports that show significant and immediate threats to the environment and the global economy as carbon emissions rise and temperatures spike faster than anticipated.
At the same time,has said he will pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, rolled back several anti-pollution regulations imposed by the Obama administration and pledged to revitalize the struggling American coal industry.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) will prioritize a measure to create a cap and trade system in her state that is similar to one already underway in neighboring California. Brown’s proposal, laid out in a budget blueprint last month, would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions that would decline over 30 years.
“Using a cap and invest strategy, that means using a market-based approach that allows our business and industry to use the lowest cost option to reduce their carbon emissions,” Brown said in an interview. “We are very committed to tackling global climate change.”
Brown’s plan would create an Oregon Climate Authority to oversee the state’s efforts to combat climate change.
Some Oregon Republicans skeptical of Brown’s plan say it would hurt the state’s economy as businesses are forced to reduce emissions perhaps faster than technology allows.
“The most important thing is to make sure that whatever we do we take into account energy-intensive or -exposed businesses,” said state Sen. Cliff Bentz, the top Republican on the Joint Interim Committee on Carbon Reduction.
Bentz said he expected the proposal to pass, “absent some seismic change in current leanings” in Salem. “I think the real challenge is to go into these discussions, which I’m very happy to be part of, and to make sure it isn’t destructive to businesses.”
Assem Prakash, a political scientist and director of the University of Washington’s Center for Environmental Politics, said Brown’s proposal has yet to be fully fleshed out.
“What she’s laid out is broad ideas,” Prakash said. “These are very complex political issues, and the governor cannot unilaterally decide this.”
The cap and trade plan carries no small amount of political risk. Voters in Washington this year rejected a ballot measure to create a cap and trade system by a wide 56.6 percent to 44.4 percent margin.
Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has suggested that climate change would be at the top of his agenda if he runs for president in 2020, told The Hill last week that he will try to advance new climate measures through the legislature.
“We are using the loss in Washington to develop policy and strategy,” Oregon’s Brown said. “Under these circumstances, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Governors in states where the energy sector is a larger part of the economy have not proposed similar cap and trade plans. Instead, they promote renewable energy industries as a promising alternative.
In Colorado, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, said this week it would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, and that it would become completely carbon-free by 2050. Rep. , who will soon leave Congress to become Colorado’s next governor, said that is a step in the right direction.
“The sooner we can achieve true energy independence, the better economic growth we’ll have and the cleaner air we’ll have,” Polis told The Hill. “Retiring coal is our priority. There’s good green jobs that can’t be outsourced.”
Rep. (D), who will take over as New Mexico’s governor next year, said she wanted her state to produce enough energy through solar and wind farms to be able to sell excess energy to California and other neighboring states.
“If there was ever a state that could export renewable energy, it’s us,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview. During her campaign, Lujan Grisham aired an advertisement showing herself atop a wind turbine, hundreds of feet above the ground.
Still, Lujan Grisham said she isn’t ready to embrace a cap and trade proposal yet.
“Those issues will get robust discussion and debate in our legislature, but where we’re going to start is by finishing up the kind of investments that allow you to unequivocally get to renewable energy,” she said.
Other incoming governors plan to dramatically increase the amount of energy they use from renewable sources.
Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker (D) has said his state will increase its reliance on renewable energy to 25 percent of total consumption by 2025. In Nevada, Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak backed a ballot measure this year that would require the state to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. In Maine, Gov.-elect Janet Mills (D) wants her state to get 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
“On the big issues, we can’t afford to wait,” Polis said. “If we want to move forward on climate and renewable energy, it will be on the state level.”