Environmental Federalism: Current Issues and Opportunities
Monday, May 23
The Newseum, Knight Conference Center, 8th Floor
9:00 AM - Welcome, John Mayo, Georgetown University
9:15 AM – Panel 1: State-Level Climate Change Policies: Issues and Challenges
- Joe Aldy, Harvard University
- Barry Rabe, University of Michigan
- Jared Snyder, New York Assistant Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change and Energy
- Vicki Arroyo, Georgetown Climate Center, moderator
10:45AM – Coffee Break
11: 00 AM - Panel 2: Disclosure and Voluntary Initiatives – VIDEO
- Mark Cohen, Resources for the Future
- Matthew Banks, World Wildlife Fund
- Matthew Kotchen, Yale University
- Bill Irving, Environmental Protection Agency
- Thomas Lyon, the Erb Institute, University of Michigan, moderator
1:30 PM - Panel 3: Renewable and Clean Energy – VIDEO
- Howard Learner, Environmental Law and Policy Center
- Karen Palmer, Resources for the Future
- James Bushnell, Iowa State University
- Brian Turner, California Air Resources Board
- Catherine Wolfram, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, moderator
3:00 PM - Concluding Remarks
This event was organized by Thomas Lyon, the Erb Institute, University of Michigan, Catherine Wolfram, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and Jodi Short, Georgetown University Law Center. All are Senior Policy Scholars at the Georgetown Center for Business & Public Policy, an academic, non-partisan research center whose mission is to engage scholars, business people and policymakers in relevant inquiries and dialogue to impact key business, economic and public policy issues confronting business today. Housed at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the Georgetown Center was created in 2002 to encourage thoughtful discussion and to document and disseminate knowledge on a range of issues in the public interest.
Increasingly we face a tension between state and federal efforts with regard to the environment. States are often the drivers of changes, but they can fall prey to protectionist elements within their borders, creating a patchwork of uncoordinated and Balkanized policies. Furthermore, they may get into counterproductive modes of competition, either a “race to the bottom” that undermines the natural environment, or a “race to the top” that risks wasteful duplication or ineffective implementation at too small a scale. A coherent federal policy seems more efficient, but federal action can be painfully slow in the gridlock-prone US system. How can these tensions best be resolved so that we achieve the right level of environmental protection at the lowest possible cost? Are these tensions particularly acute in the case of greenhouse gases, pollutants whose effects may be barely detectable at a local level?
This conference will bring together environmental policymakers from both the federal and state levels with academics who specialize in environmental policy. It aims to spark a dialogue that will generate new ideas for solving the many environmental challenges facing the US. It will focus on three particular topics: Why do states enact climate policies? How will the EPA’s mandatory greenhouse gas disclosure program interact with state policies and voluntary initiatives? How can federal and state renewable energy programs be designed so that they complement, rather than undermine, one another?
With divided government in Washington, DC once again, few expect much action on federal environmental policy in the next few years. Yet improvements in coordination between federal and state environmental policies would help to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A great recent example occurred when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of California announced a single timeframe for proposing fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for model year 2017-2025 cars and light-duty trucks, providing automakers certainty as they work to build the next generation of clean, fuel efficient cars. This conference aims to identify further opportunities to enhance coordination and environmental protection within our federal system.
Panel 1: Should States and Cities Enact Climate-Change Policies?
Historically, environmental policy in the U.S. has often originated with state or even local governments before it is passed at the federal level. The 1970 federal Clean Air Act, for example, drew heavily from regulations adopted earlier in California. As control technologies and the scientific understanding of the damages from pollution have evolved over the last 40 years, California and other states have been the early adopters of everything from more stringent NOx emissions to electric vehicles.
The same pattern appears to be emerging with climate change, as California was the first state to pass comprehensive greenhouse gas limits in 2006. At the same time, addressing climate change brings new challenges since both the scale of the problem and the distribution of potential costs and benefits differ from other environmental issues. A state like California can have at best a minimal effect on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and Californians will be hard-pressed to see the direct environmental benefits of mitigating climate change. On the other hand, if California succeeds in nurturing firms in the growing low carbon economy, the potential market for these firms’ products is worldwide.
What role are states likely to play in crafting climate change policies going forward? Can states use environmental policy to promote industrial policy and job creation? If one state enacts more stringent regulations than other states or than the federal standards, will this help or hinder the state’s local economy? Can the states continue to serve as “laboratories of democracy” pushing federal regulations to remain on the cutting edge? Are there important lessons to be learned from the history of environmental legislation about the role of states?
When states like California passed greenhouse gas regulations as early as 2006, proponents hailed them as first movers who were filling a void left by the federal government. Opponents pointed out that California emitted less than two percent of world greenhouse gases, so even significant reductions in a single state’s emissions would be trivial on a global scale. Proponents countered that if enough states enact their own climate policies, the pressure on the federal government increases, as companies find it too costly to deal with a patchwork of regulations.
Panel 2: Disclosure & Voluntary Initiatives
One certain federal action on climate change will be the EPA disclosure regulation. EPA’s mandatory disclosure regime will exist against the backdrop of voluntary carbon disclosure regimes, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, as well as in the shadow of the agency’s own former voluntary disclosure regime, the Climate Leaders program. This panel explores disclosure regulation as a strategy for mitigating green house gases and examines the challenges and possibilities of moving from an entirely voluntary disclosure regime to a mandatory disclosure regime. How are regulators managing this shift? What role do NGOs that have promoted voluntary disclosure see for themselves in a mandatory disclosure regime? Is there a role for voluntary disclosure regimes within or alongside the mandatory regime?
Panel 3: Renewable and Clean Energy Standards at the State and Federal Levels
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of renewable portfolio standard (RPS), requiring that a certain percent of electricity be supplied by renewable generators by a particular point in time. Important details of the regulations differ across states. Some states have carve-outs for particular renewable technologies and some states require that the renewable electricity be generated within state borders. Also, definitions of what constitutes a renewable resource differ across states, as do the potential penalties for non-compliance. President Obama has proposed a clean energy standard (CES), which would encompass nuclear and natural gas-powered electricity.
How would state RPS’ and a federal CES interact? How far would meeting the 29 state RPSs move the country towards meeting the federal CES? Does this just mean that ratepayers in those 29 states will bear the cost of the federal action? What are the pros and cons of requiring that renewable generation sources remain within state borders?