The Trump administration and Congress leveled attacks this year on the environment, public health and social justice while Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, wildfires raged in the West, and evidence mounted that climate change is here and harming tens of millions of Americans. NRDC has already brought some 39 lawsuits against the Trump administration for its illegal attacks on the environment. In my long career as an environmental advocate, I can’t remember a darker or more intense year than 2017.
But this has also been the best of times for state and local climate action, as city and state leaders across the country, supported by NRDC advocacy, delivered a stream of bipartisan victories, that flew in the face of Trump’s climate denial and rollbacks. While we still need strong federal policies to meet our long-term climate goals, these local, state and regional initiatives are laying crucial groundwork for a cleaner energy future. NRDC is building its work with cities and states to keep this train moving, and ensure that Trump can’t stop climate and clean energy progress. Here’s a sampling of some of the top regional, state, and local climate and clean energy victories that NRDC and our partners played a key role in achieving over the last twelve months.
NRDC’s home state of New York and its neighbors have long been leaders in clean energy policy. Over the past year, state and regional initiatives reached for ever-stronger climate and clean energy goals.
The governors of New York, California, and Washington created the U.S. Climate Alliance, now including 13 states and Puerto Rico, which is committed to meeting U.S. Paris climate accord goals, despite Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw from the agreement.
The nine states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) agreed to cut power plant carbon pollution by at least 30 percent more through 2030 — approximately 60 percent below where the program started in 2009.
Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont announced that they will hold a series of public listening sessions to explore regional solutions to improve transportation and reduce emissions. Through this effort, the states have an opportunity to replicate RGGI’s success and many benefits in the transportation sector, the largest source of carbon pollution in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
New York committed to developing 2400 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2030 — enough to power 1.25 million homes, announced a plan to close the risky Indian Point nuclear power plant by 2021 and blocked development of the Northern Access Project natural gas pipeline that would have moved fracked gas from Pennsylvania to Canada. (But the state still lags behind on energy efficiency and needs to catch up in 2018).
The first U.S. offshore wind project started operation off Rhode Island.
Massachusetts approved a plan to install more than 4,000 electric vehicle charging stations, the largest program of its kind outside of California.
States and cities across the region are increasingly embracing renewable energy — and seeing the benefits of job creation.
Virginia announced plans to develop a state climate cap-and-trade program, creating a path to joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
North Carolina added 108 MW of utility-scale solar capacity in the first quarter of 2017 alone―the most in the nation during that time period―while boasting more than 9,500 solar jobs. The federal government hosted the region’s first offshore wind auction for a lease off the coast of North Carolina that could accommodate 1,500 MW of wind energy, enough to power more than 500,000 homes.
Atlanta pledged to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2035, joining dozens of other U.S. cities that have made this pledge. NRDC is supporting Atlanta in the development of an implementation plan that will get the city to 100 percent renewables, to be released in January.
In the heartland, Republican governors are moving forward on clean energy policies that create jobs and help the environment. At this time last year, the region scored a trifecta of clean energy wins following a huge effort from NRDC’s Midwest team:
Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act, a groundbreaking bill that will jumpstart energy efficiency and renewable energy growth after a long period of stagnation. My colleague Toba Pearlman will explain what followed s here.
Ohio’s governor vetoed legislation that would have extended a freeze on state energy efficiency and renewable energy mandates, citing economic concerns. My colleague Samantha Williams will explain how clean energy fared in Ohio over the year here.
Michigan enacted legislation to increase investment in energy efficiency and expand renewable energy. My colleague Ariana Gonzalez highlights the Michigan clean energy advances that followed in 2017 here.
California continues to set the bar on climate action, but energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate leadership is taking off across the West.
California enacted an air quality and climate package that will extend its market-based cap-and-trade program to 2030 and improve air quality in neighborhoods plagued by traffic and industrial pollution.
California approved some of the nation’s strongest state limits on methane emissionsthat apply to both new and existing oil and gas facilities.
With strong support from the City Energy Project, a joint initiative of NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation, Los Angeles passed one of the nation’s most ambitious building energy and water efficiency policies.
The Washington state utility commission approved a landmark $10 million “just transition” plan to assist the workers and the communities impacted by the impending closure of a massive four-unit coal-burning power plant in Colstrip, Montana. Input from NRDC and our allies helped to shape the plan.
Colorado approved energy efficiency legislation with bipartisan support and committed to reducing statewide greenhouse emissions by more than 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The business community, led by NRDC’s business affiliate E2, strongly supported this bill.
Nevada, with broad support, adopted a new law to increase energy efficiency. We expect the legislation to roughly double utility investment in energy efficiency between now and 2020.
Salt Lake City (also part of the City Energy Project) passed a city law aimed at cutting energy costs, improving local air quality, and reducing the city’s carbon footprint, which is projected to save local building owners $15.8 million in annual energy costs and eliminate over 29 tons of air pollution.
As 2017 concludes, let’s celebrate the hard work, bipartisan cooperation and strong and broad partnerships that make victories like these possible. And let’s redouble our efforts in 2018 to build on these successes and accelerate the clean energy revolution in states and cities across the United States – while we continue the good fight to resist Trump administration rollbacks.
Trump Is Playing Mr. Grinch with Renewable Energy
By Nathanael Greene
Throughout 2017, when it comes to wind and solar, the Trump administration has been doing its best Grinch impersonation—he and his team seem to want to be the executive branch that stole our clean energy future. But like the Whos down in Whoville, cities and states are bringing the holiday cheer anyway. And just as importantly, even before accounting for policy support, wind and solar are now most often the cheapest form of new generation. That makes renewable energy like a snowball rolled over the lip of a hill—its market share keeps getting bigger, faster. We don’t have a deadline like a certain jolly old soul but the speed of clean energy deployment matters, and we need policies to help speed it up, and to keep fighting the Grinch’s efforts to slow it down.
Here are just a few of the Grinchy steps the Trump administration has taken this year to try to get in the way of wind and solar:
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has started the process of pulling the plug on the Clean Power Plan.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has proposed a massive bailout to coal and nuclear plant owners and slashing the budget for renewables and energy efficiency at the Department of Energy by 70 percent.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke is trying to illegally slash the size of public monumentsso that coal, oil and, it turns out, uranium mining companies can get more of our natural resources for cheap.
Trump himself is considering recommendations to impose import tariffs on solar panels, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition.
And most recently, pro-fossil fuel forces in Congress came close to undermining the main federal incentives for wind and solar as part of the rushed and scandalous tax billthey just passed.
Last minute fixes to the tax bill look like they have mostly spared federal incentives for wind and solar, but keep in mind, permanent tax breaks for fossil fuels already dwarf those for renewables by a margin of 7 to 1, and the bill provides a new handout to oil companies in the form of further tax breaks on foreign income and opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling. It’s clear that Trump and his allies in Congress are doing all that they can to prop up dirty energy and slow down the progress of clean energy.
While visions of coal may dance in Trump’s head, many states and cities keep plowing ahead, bringing clean energy to all. To wit:
There are now over 50 cities that have committed to 100 percent renewable energy, five of which are already there, and 387 mayors that have joined states, businesses and universities that have committed to reaching the Paris climate goals.
California recently announced that it’s on track to meet its 50 percent renewables goal well before the 2030 target year.
California is also still work towards codifying a groundbreaking agreement to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, retrain its workers and replace the power with clean energy options led by energy efficiency, wind, and solar power.
Illinois has stepped up its renewables program.
From Massachusetts to Virginia, these states are making progress by advancing offshore wind. The first offshore wind project in the United States just completed its first full year of operation. In these states, businesses are also choosing wind and solar in record amounts.
Voters have also started to make clear that they didn’t vote for a dirty environment in the fall of 2016. In Virginia, New Jersey, and even in Alabama, voters have elected leaders that made clean energy, and a healthy environment a central part of their platform. Even states with a supermajority of conservative legislators such as Kansas and North Carolina (which just signed up for an additional 3 gigawatts of solar over the next 45 months) have continued to make progress on renewable energy.
The good news behind a lot of this good news is that wind and solar are finally just plain cheaper in most places than most other forms of new energy, as the chart above shows. For a while, they’ve been easier to build, cleaner, and generated more jobs per dollar invested—but being cheaper matters, too. And we can now anticipate the tipping point—when new wind and solar facilities become cheaper than existing coal and natural gas plants.
As a result, wind and solar energy are rapidly growing, and are going to become a central part of our energy mix, but timing and scale are critical. Because of the urgent threat of climate change, because we all want our kids to be able to drink clean water, because breathing clean air matters—the speed and size of that growth also matter.
We need a lot of renewables to avoid a lot of pollution, and we need them before the worst effects of climate change are locked in—and that means policy matters. We need cities and states to keep it up, and we need the federal government to get back into the game of supporting and investing in clean energy.
If memory serves, in the end, the Grinch’s heart grows, and he rides his sleigh down the mountain, bringing Christmas back to Whoville. Maybe Trump will recognize that to grow jobs and make America safer, healthier, and more prosperous, he should help build the momentum for wind and solar. I’m afraid this this story might end differently though.
In the meantime, we can be grateful that our city and state leaders are behind clean energy, pushing it forward—and the economic fundamentals are adding momentum. The snowball of clean energy success is rolling faster and faster and getting bigger and bigger, and we all know what happens to cartoonish villains who get in front of snowballs rolling downhill.
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL