More carbon pricing
In November, voters in Washington State rejected a ballot initiative to impose a statewide tax on carbon emissions — a sign that putting a price on carbon, a favorite solution of many economists, remains a tough sell politically.
But the idea is far from dead: In neighboring Oregon, the Legislature is now considering a statewide cap-and-trade system that would put a price on emissions from a wide range of polluters, including manufacturers, paper mills, refineries and utilities. (Oregon already gets the vast majority of its electricity from hydropower dams, so it has less room to expand renewable power than other states.) The bill faces a tough battle, but if it were to pass, Oregon could link up with California and Quebec to create a carbon trading system.
Elsewhere, New Jersey and Virginia are planning to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Although Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has faced intense pressure to resign over a racist yearbook photo, state regulators are still laying the groundwork to participate in the cap-and-trade program.
How far can states go?
In September, a report by America’s Pledge, a coalition of states, cities and businesses that have promised to stick with the Paris Agreement, found that current state and city climate policies would, if followed through, get the United States about two-thirds of the way toward its commitment under the accord.
Nathan Hultman, an author of that report and director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, said the flurry of new state policies could help push the United States closer to its Paris goal, a reduction of emissions at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, though it would take time to gauge their full impact.
“It’s still the case that federal leadership is going to be absolutely essential, and right now that’s absent,” he said. “But we also knew that federal action alone wasn’t going to be enough, because so many important decisions have to be made at the state and city level. And one thing we’ve seen in the past two years is that states are starting to think seriously about what more they can actually do to deliver real and meaningful emissions reductions.”
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