Follow the Leaders

Solar panels, transmission tower, wind turbines, and vegetation

Happy Earth Day! Today, the Biden administration announced the United States’ new Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement: a 50-52 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. In advance of that announcement, yesterday, the State Impact Center convened a group of state AGs and a representative of the administration to discuss the path forward on climate action.

We discussed states’ climate commitments — outlined in our report, Follow the Leaders: States Set Path to Accelerate U.S. Progress on Climate — many of which were set or strengthened in the absence of federal leadership during the Trump era. We discussed the pernicious health effects of fossil fuel combustion, a burden that disproportionately falls on lower-income communities and communities of color. We discussed the transformative opportunities that the transition to clean energy represents — to ensure access to clean air and water, to create stable jobs with wages that can support healthy families, to reinvigorate economically distressed towns and cities across the country, and to root out long-standing environmental injustices. Here are the highlights:

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong noted that his state “sits at the end of America’s tailpipe,” where conventional air pollutants generated by fossil fuel combustion concentrate and take a heavy toll on public health. AG Tong also reminded us that he and fellow AGs of northeastern states were forced to sue the Trump administration repeatedly over its failure to enforce the Clean Air Act’s provisions on cross-state air pollution.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh recalled the successful efforts of a broad coalition of state AGs to halt the Trump administration’s plans for offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic Coast. Those plans would have needlessly extended reliance on fossil fuels, while harming sensitive marine ecosystems and leaving coastal communities under the constant threat of potential spills.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison highlighted his state’s efforts to accelerate decarbonization of the transportation sector, including through a new state policy that requires automakers to expand and diversify their zero-emissions vehicle offerings. AG Ellison also noted that Black Minnesotans bear the brunt of the health impacts of air pollution, despite having below-average rates of car ownership — in other words, those communities pay a steep price for the state’s dependence on gas-powered transportation, without fully sharing in its benefits.

New York Attorney General Letitia James recalled her work as a member of the New York City Council, and the severe impacts that air pollution took — and continues to take — on the health of children living in the district she represented. She reminded us that the impacts of environmental degradation fall most heavily on those who “don’t have the luxury” to worry about climate change in their daily lives.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul stressed that the impacts of climate change are already here — from wildfires raging across the west, to the myriad threats facing the Great Lakes. AG Kaul also emphasized businesses’ desire for regulatory certainty, and highlighted state AGs’ efforts to prevent the Trump administration from skewing federal agencies’ rulemaking processes against sound, science-based regulations.

Justin Pidot, General Counsel at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, joined the conversation to speak about the Biden administration’s approach to climate action. Mr. Pidot thanked state AGs for being “the bulwark” against the Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts, and for stepping in to enforce federal environmental protections where that administration failed to do so. He stressed the importance of strong partnerships between states and the Biden administration as the United States charts a new course toward climate progress.

Our conversation is available in full here. As federal and state agencies as well as cities and other entities across the country get to work on meeting the new Paris Agreement goals, our conversation yesterday helped to highlight the crucial work that has been and will continue to be done at the state and local level. There is a measure of long-term stability that can be achieved through that work, there is great potential to establish more programs at these levels, and there is work that the federal government can and should do to affirmatively support and promote that work. To take a deeper dive into states’ climate commitments and how they can and should shape the United States’ approach to the climate crisis going forward, check out Follow the Leaders: States Set Path to Accelerate U.S. Progress on Climate. We wish everyone an enjoyable Earth Week.