Something big is coming soon....
Read this sneak preview by Emma Buday, State Research & Policy Intern at Climate Cabinet Action, summer 2021.
I am an intern at Climate Cabinet Action. After spending just 8 weeks diving into the world of state climate policy, I have come to this simple conclusion: state legislators are underappreciated.
In preparation for the release of Climate Cabinet Action’s (first ever) state legislature scorecard, I’ve combed through thousands of climate bills, dove into the policy landscape of Texas and North Carolina, and researched energy outlooks for dozens of states. All of this has highlighted for me the (often neglected) importance of state decision-making.
With millions of constituents to appease, and billions of combined dollars at their behest; states shape the trajectory of our collective climate and energy future -- not to mention impacts on marginalized and historically overburdened communities. In order to alter our global climatic course, holding these legislators accountable is critical.
Throughout my time at Climate Cabinet Action, the power of state legislatures has become overwhelmingly clear. Excitingly, I’ve seen a multitude of climate wins emanating from this mid-level of government: (1) states’ renewable portfolio standards are responsible for the majority of renewable energy growth in the US; (2) California, amongst several others, has adopted vehicle emissions standards that have set the nation’s future course; and (3) legislatures across the US are adopting binding 100% renewable electricity commitments.
But at the same time, states also have immense power to hold us back. In my research, I have been appalled by the sheer number of regressive bills currently moving through statehouses — and the different types of attacks being advanced. The consequences are too grave to ignore, so I’ve highlighted several findings on the many ways state legislatures are blocking climate progress: through subsidies, interference with federal and local action, and attacks on democracy.
Fossil fuel subsidies.
Most shockingly, to me, is perhaps the amount of tax-payer dollars funneled directly into the fossil fuel industry. Across the United States, state legislatures (still!) actively contribute to the dominance of Big Oil--through subsidies amounting to billions of dollars for gas and oil companies.
Whether legislators openly extend aid to Big Oil, or camouflage against bureaucratic red tape; it is a stark reminder of the attention we must pay to state budgets.
Interference with federal & local efforts.
In addition to the influence of this powerful allocation, states are the nexus between local and federal action--and a surprising amount of legislatures have blocked climate action efforts from these other governmental levels.
Attacks on democracy.
In order to reverse the negative momentum towards a climate oriented legislative agenda, communities and individuals must rise up and express their distaste. But this is becoming increasingly difficult in states enforcing voter suppression and criminalizing peaceful protest. These actions against justice will prevent future action on a multitude of popular aspirations; and are ultimately an attack on democracy. Across the U.S., there are an alarming amount of regressive, dangerous, decisions being made by states--which will not only prevent action now, but determine our course for the future of the planet:
In conclusion; subsidies towards fossil fuels, federal interference, and local preemption severely thwart our future course--and will leave many regions unprepared, completely opposing innovation as our crisis persists. These issues will only be exacerbated by anti-democratic legislation, which suppresses free speech and prevents equal representation.
And while our attention floats towards DC politics, states continually pass this critical legislation. Rather than falling into a single national mindset, we must recognize the importance of state decision-making -- promoting individuals who support climate action and environmental justice, and waging accountability on those who enforce regressive legislation.
Of course, with an overwhelming 7,000+ state legislators in America, it’s incredibly difficult to determine who is advancing progress, and who acts as a legislative roadblock. Fortunately, that’s why Climate Cabinet Action will soon be releasing the first national climate scorecard for state legislators. With this data, we may distinguish between climate champions and challengers as the influence of climate politics becomes clear.
I hope you will be motivated to act. Our climate depends on it.
- Emma Buday, State Research & Policy Intern, Summer 2021