The Polarization of Energy Policy

The President has famously said that climate change is a “hoax,” and in this instance his actions speak louder than words. The President’s budget proposal dramatically cut or eliminated programs designed to address climate change and clean energy, and all signs indicate that he will pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Clearly, the federal government has established a new agenda for climate change policy. Meanwhile, individual states are moving forward with their own energy policies.

As various states weigh in, environmental policies show the sharp political divisions that we have seen in other policy areas. Generally, states on the west coast and in New England are moving aggressively to reduce their carbon footprint, whereas states in the mid-West are shifting away from renewables and embracing coal and other fossil fuels.

In some regions, there has also been a rekindled push toward renewables. California is aiming towards the goal of 100 percent carbon free electricity by 2045. Similarly, the Nevada legislature recently passed legislation to boost renewables to 80 percent of the state’s portfolio by 2024. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington already have aggressive renewable requirements in place.

Nine northeastern states make up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a mandatory, market-based carbon trading program. With the upcoming closure of the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass., New England will eliminate almost all of its coal-generated electricity.

On the other hand, a few states appear to be following the Trump administration’s lead and are backing off from renewable energy. The governor of Oklahoma recently signed a bill that will eliminate the state’s wind tax credit early, ending it on July 1, 2017 instead of January 1, 2021. Nebraska has seen its use of coal increase over the last six years, bucking the national trend of decreased coal use for power plants.

In North Dakota, the legislature debated a bill to end wind development by preventing the Public Services Commission from permitting any additional projects. This effort ultimately fell short, but the fact that it got any traction is remarkable for a state that has been called the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.” The move is reflective of the Trump administration’s shift away from renewable energy programs.

President Trump is expected to announce his decision to remain in or exit the Paris climate agreement very soon. His stance on climate change and renewable energy is clear, but even if the President decides to keep the U.S. in the accord, energy policy will continue to be a polarizing issue and ultimately be up to individual states, which have decided to wade into the fight over climate change policies on their own.

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