States Step Up to the Climate Challenge With Innovation and Ambition

The results of the 2018 midterm elections made it clear that American voters are ready for climate action. Across the country, we saw victories for many candidates who support bold climate and clean energy policies at both the federal and state levels. When these candidates took office in January, they turned their campaign promises into reality.

During the 2019 legislative sessions, we saw a suite of innovative and ambitious new policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase investments in renewable energy and clean transportation, and keep the U.S. on track to meet our commitment to the landmark Paris Agreement. This momentum toward a zero-carbon economy reflects leading climate scientists’ call to limit average global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As the urgency for climate action grows, companies continue to take steps to reduce their emissions while also calling for robust state policies. From Colorado to Nevada and from New York to Virginia, business leaders are urging policymakers to raise their ambitions and go further and faster to tackle climate change.

States set emissions reduction targets

As a growing number of states advance bold new climate policies, many are prioritizing targets to reduce GHG emissions that are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Colorado’s Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution set some of the most ambitious goals in the country for reducing climate pollution. The bill creates three interim targets that set the state on a path to reduce statewide GHG emissions by 90 percent by 2050. Investors and companies such as Aspen Skiing Company, First Affirmative, New Belgium Brewing, and Vail Resorts support the bill because they see decarbonization as an economic opportunity for Colorado.


In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf joined the U.S. Climate Alliance and issued an executive order setting a goal to achieve a 26 percent reduction of GHG emissions by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Other states made progress toward science-based targets as well. Nevada lawmakers passed a bill requiring the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to issue an annual emissions report and develop recommendations to achieve near-zero emissions by 2050. Massachusetts lawmakers also recently introduced a bill that would set a bold net-zero GHG emissions target for the Commonwealth and require interim targets and a comprehensive analysis for how the state can reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Market-based tools to reduce emissions

Market-based solutions to curb carbon emissions continue to gain traction in states across the nation in 2019. These proposals include both economy-wide and sector specific solutions that would reflect the cost of emissions and encourage reductions.


In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon sign the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) after his administration reached a successful compromise with legislative leaders. The law requires New York to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, with specific electric sector targets of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2040. The economy-wide goal will usher in opportunities for the state to reduce emissions beyond the electric sector, including reductions in the building and transportation sectors. With this new law, New York can build from the success of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has reduced electric power emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic by more than 40 percent since 2009.

While Oregon was unsuccessful in passing an ambitious cap-and-invest proposal, the state made significant progress with the Oregon House passing HB2020. This law would have expanded Oregon’s GHG reduction goals and created a cap-and-invest program to achieve at least 80 percent emission reductions below 1990 levels by 2050. Despite broad support from companies and institutions such as Adobe, Agriculture Capital, Craft Brew Alliance, Lewis and Clark College, and Trillium Asset Management, the bill did not pass the Oregon Senate. While this outcome is disappointing, it’s clear that business support for carbon pricing efforts is stronger than ever and advocates laid a solid foundation for future policy discussions around carbon pricing in the state.


In Virginia, following two years of corporate advocacy, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality finalized carbon regulations for the electric power sector to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the Commonwealth’s electric sector by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030.

On the transportation front, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, announced in December 2018 that they would spend the next year developing a regional market-based policy to reduce transportation emissions and foster economic growth. With transportation now the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, there is a significant urgency to act. Investors and companies called on governors in these states to support this endeavor because they see this approach as a proven, effective policy tool to address transportation challenges.

Decarbonization of the electricity sector

Five of this year’s newly-elected governors ran on platforms of 100 percent clean energy, and many more followed through on similar promises this year. Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Puerto Rico, and Washington all passed bills aimed at sourcing 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free resources such as wind or solar power. These communities join a growing list—lead by California and Hawaii—committed to powering their grids with 100 percent clean energy.

States also took steps to increase access to clean energy access by expanding net metering programs and increasing low-income solar opportunities. In New Hampshire, a bipartisan group of legislators once again passed a bill lifting the net metering cap from one megawatt to five megawatts for businesses and towns wanting to invest in onsite renewable energy. A diverse group of companies, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, Timberland, Worthen Industries, and more, supported the bill as “a crucial reform for the New Hampshire business community.” Now these companies are rallying to urge lawmakers to stay strong in their support of the bill and override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto. Similarly, South Carolina lawmakers approved the Energy Freedom Act this year, which removed the state’s two percent net metering cap.

These policies will continue to help the U.S. power sector transition away from coal and toward zero-carbon energy resources. In fact, a recent Ceres analysis shows that zero-carbon resources, such as solar and wind, now account for more electricity generation than either gas or coal. That trend will continue thanks in part to bold new state policies.

As 2019 showed, states are raising the bar when it comes to climate action. And yet even as states continue to lead the way toward a zero-carbon economy, we know there is much more work to be done to build off these successes.

As leaders work to implement these new policies and attract new investments and jobs to their states, there is an opportunity to learn from each other. At the top of the list of lessons learned: businesses can help move policymakers to take critical climate action.

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