As Federal Climate-Fighting Tools are Taken Away, Cities and States Step Up

July 01, 2022

By Maggie Astor, New York Times

Legislators in Colorado, historically a major coal state, have passed more than 50 climate-related laws since 2019. The liquor store in the farming town of Morris, Minn., cools its beer with solar power. Voters in Athens, Ohio, imposed a carbon fee on themselves. Citizens in Fairfax County, Va., teamed up for a year and a half to produce a 214-page climate action plan.

Across the country, communities and states are accelerating their efforts to fight climate change as action stalls on the national level. This week, the Supreme Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one of the biggest sources of planet-warming pollution — the latest example of how the Biden administration’s climate tools are getting chipped away.

During the Trump administration, which aggressively weakened environmental and climate protections, local efforts gained importance. Now, experts say, local action is even more critical for the United States — which is second only to China in emissions — to have a chance at helping the world avert the worst effects of global warming.

This patchwork approach is no substitute for a coordinated national strategy. Local governments have limited reach, authority and funding.

But as the legislative and regulatory options available in Washington, D.C., become increasingly constrained, “States are really critical to helping the country as a whole achieve our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton, manager of the analysis team for the United States program at RMI, a clean energy think tank. “They have a real opportunity to lead. They have been leading.”

New York and Colorado, for example, are on track to reduce electricity-related emissions 80 percent or more by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, according to new state scorecards from RMI.

By removing partisan politics from community discussions about climate policy, it’s sometimes possible to reach a consensus that’s been difficult to achieve on a national level.

That is what happened in Morris, a city of about 5,000 in Minnesota, not far from the South Dakota border. There, the University of Minnesota Morris campus leans left politically, while surrounding farming communities lean right. But both communities broadly support — and have helped to shape — the “Morris Model,” which calls for reducing energy consumption 30 percent by 2030, producing 80 percent of the county’s electricity locally by 2030 (thus guaranteeing it comes from renewable sources) and eliminating landfill waste by 2025.