WSJ: Why States and Cities Must Lead the Way on Climate Change
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Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. is director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, and the author of the forthcoming book, “Powering Forward: What Everyone Should Know About America’s Energy Revolution.”
Much was made a few months ago about the historic climate agreement in Paris. Much is being made now about the race for the U.S. presidency. The two intersect on the question of whether the next president will build on President Obama’s climate plans or backslide on the progress Mr. Obama has managed against global climate change.
But while the spotlight is on this year’s extraordinary race to the White House, America’s ability to keep its commitments in the Paris agreement and to build a 21st century energy economy depends largely on states and communities far beyond the beltway.
The truth is that despite the large-scale, global impact of climate change, it is the states and cities, not Washington D.C., that have most of the legal powers to prevent global warming by helping the United States transition to cleaner energy.
States create energy building codes; localities enforce them. Cities establish the zoning that governs sprawl. They make mobility investments that can simultaneously save adults from traffic jams and children from asthma. State commissions regulate investor-owned electric utilities and the policies that either reward or punish customers who want to produce their own power. Legislatures decide whether to establish goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy. In fact, the renewable energy standards put into effect by nearly 30 states in recent years deserve much of the credit for the rapid growth of solar and wind power in America.
Cities also can do small things that can have big collective impacts on greenhouse-gas emissions. Urban forestry, green spaces, rooftop gardens, permeable parking lots and natural drainage swales not only bring nature back into the lives of urban residents; they also sequester carbon, help reduce flooding, mitigate urban heat islands, clean the air, recharge groundwater and reduce the amount of energy necessary to move and treat water, typically the largest item on community energy bills.
Whatever the results are of this year’s presidential and congressional elections, America’s future depends to a very large degree on our next mayors, city council members, county supervisors, state legislators, utility commissioners and governors. They and their constituents can be the muscle behind climate action and the champions of the clean-energy transition. That’s why most of the battles against renewable energy standards and net metering policies are being fought today not in Washington D.C., but in states and localities.
And that’s why every voter this year should check the box not only for president, but also for every candidate down to the bottom of the ballot.