The changing climate of cooperative federalism: the dynamic role of the states in a national strategy to combat climate change.

Author:Snyder, Jared
  1. INTRODUCTION II. CLIMATE CHANGE: A GLOBAL AND LOCAL PROBLEM WITH GLOBAL AND LOCAL SOLUTIONS A. State and Local Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions Can Have State- and Local-Specific Benefits B. Uneven Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Across States Create Uneven Incentives, Responsibilities and Opportunities Across States C. State and Local Efforts to Combat Climate Change Have Other Benefits III. RGGI AND OTHER NEW YORK STATE CLIMATE INITIATIVES A. RGGI: A Pioneering Cap-and-Trade Program for the Power Sector B. New York's Multiprong Approach to Addressing Climate Change IV. THE CASE FOR FEDERALISM: APPLICATION TO GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE A. Climate Change and the Dynamics of Cooperative Federalism B. Collective Benefits of State and Local Government Action to Combat Climate Change 1. States as "Laboratories" and the Need for Ongoing Innovation 2. State and Local Programs Can Reduce the Cost of Meeting a Federal Cap 3. Enabling Further Action in the Future C. State and Local Governments Should be Able to Incur Additional Burdens and Reap Additional Benefits D. Treatment of State and Regional Cap-and-Trade Programs V. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDED ELEMENTS OF FEDERAL LEGISLATION I. INTRODUCTION

    The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    President Barack Obama

    January 26, 2009

    In the past decade, state and local governments have assumed the mantle of leadership in addressing climate change in the United States. State and local leadership has laid the foundation for an effective, efficient, and economically beneficial American climate change and clean energy strategy. Indeed, a silver lining of the federal inaction on climate change over the past eight years has been that it fostered the development of innovative and pioneering efforts by state and local governments to combat climate change. One prime example of this dynamic is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

    As Congress and the federal government's executive branch finally begin to seriously consider a meaningful national climate change policy, it is critical to heed President Obama's recognition that a national approach to addressing climate change will need to include a variety of programs at each level of government. Climate change is undoubtedly unique amongst policy challenges in both its magnitude and its scope. It is both a global and local crisis, and it has both global and local solutions and impacts. Given the magnitude of the climate change crisis, our national response to climate change must be collective in nature and incorporate all levels of government in the most effective manner. The federal government cannot address the transcendent challenges of climate change alone; it must enlist states and municipalities as partners in developing and implementing the policies that are needed to address climate change.

    By complementing a federal program with programs and policies at the state and local levels, we will be better able to achieve our climate and energy goals at the lowest collective cost and the greatest overall benefit. Complementary state and local level programs, operating alongside a federal program, can reduce the cost of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, innovative and aggressive state programs have already provided a model for federal action, and will continue to do so in the future. State and local governments are generally more able than the federal government to respond quickly to new scientific and technological developments. New York and other states have been implementing well-structured and successful climate change programs for a number of years. As we explain, these pioneering and innovative state programs will continue to have value when the federal government finally regulates GHG emissions in some fashion.

    This collaborative effort is consistent with fundamental principles of federalism that underlie the relationships between states and the federal government. The American system of federalism respects and values the flexibility of state and local governments to take action above and beyond whatever is required by federal environmental programs, including any prospective federal climate change legislation. As explained below, this flexibility must allow for a state to work to realize whatever additional level of GHG emission reductions it deems necessary and achievable, whether by implementing a concurrent state or regional cap-and-trade program, retiring allowances in a federal cap-and-trade system, requiring certain amounts of renewable energy production, encouraging energy efficiency, or some other method.

    This paper explains why President Obama is correct that states and local communities must continue to be on the front lines of confronting our climate and energy challenges in the decades to come. It also articulates the benefits of preserving state and local authority to regulate GHG emissions after a federal legislative or regulatory program is in place. In particular, this paper describes how RGGI has demonstrated both the benefits of auctioning emission allowances in a GHG cap-and-trade program and the mechanics of actually conducting such an action successfully.


    Climate change is often characterized as being fundamentally distinct from other environmental problems in that it is a global, not local, problem, perhaps creating less need for allowing states to be more stringent than the federal government. This argument seems to imply--incorrectly--that a problem cannot be both global and local in nature. On the contrary, climate change is perhaps the best example of just such a crisis: It is a worldwide problem that has impacts at the global and local level, and it requires action at both levels in order to be solved. First, emission reductions taken in a given state mitigate climate change worldwide, including in the state taking action. The fact that the benefits of state actions spill beyond a state's borders simply increases the benefit of state action from a national or international perspective. Second, while atmospheric concentrations of GHGs are relatively uniform across the globe, emissions are not; therefore, state action tailored to its specific emission portfolio can achieve emission reductions more effectively and efficiently than a federal program. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, actions by a state to reduce GHG emissions often have significant concomitant benefits that may be limited to that state.

    1. State and Local Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions Can Have State- and Local-Specific Benefits

      Climate change is a global problem, but it is also a problem at the state and local level. Local GHG reduction strategies contribute to reductions in local, as well as international, ambient GHG concentrations. Furthermore, the effects of climate change are being felt at the local and state levels and many of these effects are distinct in nature and magnitude across different locations.

      Those who believe climate change to be a purely global problem also often argue that local GHG emissions do not cause local environmental and health problems. But any emission, from any location, contributes to global atmospheric concentrations of GHGs. The contribution of any particular source may be minimal, but the fundamental cycle remains: (1) local emissions combine to affect global atmospheric concentrations, and (2) in turn, local emissions cause both global and local environmental and public health problems through this change in global atmospheric concentration. Of course, the reverse is also true: Local reductions of GHG emissions combine to mitigate global atmospheric concentrations of GHGs, and in turn result in both global and local benefits in terms of mitigating environmental and health impacts associated with climate change. These may seem obvious points, but without accepting this basic premise, any comprehensive policy might ignore both cause and effect at the state and local level.

      In any case, local impacts are not uniform across the country. In fact, many states are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, especially in terms of sea level rise, droughts, and reduction in water supplies, but also based on other inherent climate differences. Much of the world will suffer from the effects of climate change, which of course means that any individual state and locality will suffer as well. In its historic decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court observed correctly that the fact "[t]hat these climate-change risks are 'widely shared' does not minimize [a particular state's] interest. ..." (1) Each state and local government may have to adapt to different consequences of climate change, or may have to deal with an even more pressing crisis than other state and local governments or the nation as a whole.

    2. Uneven Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Across States Create Uneven Incentives, Responsibilities and Opportunities Across States

      Of course, while concentrations of GHGs may be relatively uniform throughout the planet's atmosphere, emissions of GHGs are not. In fact, GHG emissions are extremely disproportionate throughout the world and even throughout the country. For example, the average New Yorker's per capita carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) emissions are approximately 10 percent of the average Wyoming resident's. (2) Similarly, in New York, transportation and buildings are the largest sources of GHG emissions, while in many other states and regions, the power sector produces the most GHG emissions. This element of the crisis further belies the familiar trope that the scale of climate change makes it unlike any other environmental problem; its roots are also at the local level.

      The differences in the relative levels of GHG emissions amongst the states suggest the importance of an approach that leaves certain choices to...

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