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New administration gives US states fresh momentum on climate

The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is a boon for states that have led the charge on advancing smart climate policy in the U.S.

For the past four years, with the backing of major investors, companies and advocates, states created a bold blueprint for ambitious climate policy leadership. Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the devastating effects of the climate crisis became more extreme, we saw dozens of states put in place policies to build a more equitable and sustainable economy.

Now, with a new administration that will prioritize climate action, states can build even more momentum on climate policy over the next four years. Here are four ways they can do it.

Achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement

States have been stepping up to do their part to meet the goals of the Paris agreement since it was adopted in 2015, and we expect they will continue to do so when the U.S. rejoins the pact in 2021. From committing to net-zero emissions targets to implementing 100 percent clean energy goals, states have worked tirelessly to decarbonize the electricity sector. And time and again, investors and companies had their back — not only by committing to reducing emissions and investing in clean energy in their own operations, but also in firmly advocating for bold climate policy. As a result, one in three Americans now live in a city or state that has committed to or achieved 100 percent clean electricity. And President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to achieve 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 is sure to propel these state efforts already underway.

Support a clean transportation future

Biden’s commitment to a clean transportation future will only help accelerate the groundswell of necessary action that states are taking to reduce transportation emissions. Just this year, 15 states joined together in the largest multi-state collaboration to deploy more zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, and California set a requirement for all new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero emission vehicles by 2035. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, state policymakers are on the cusp of finalizing the plan for the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional effort to limit transportation emissions and provide much needed revenue for public transit, electric vehicles and more.

A growing number of states are also taking steps to adopt California’s clean car standards to get more low- and zero-emission passenger vehicles on the road. Last year, Colorado became the first state in the interior to adopt the standards, thanks in part to support from influential local businesses. Governors in Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico are now pursuing the standards in their states. We see this momentum continuing with Biden’s pledge to adopt new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100 percent of new light- and medium-duty vehicles sold are electrified.

Invest in a more equitable economy

As we build back better from COVID-19, states have an opportunity to ratchet up investments in a more equitable and sustainable economy that puts clean energy and transportation infrastructure at the forefront. Equity must be front and center to any planning and implementation for new spending — and Biden has made this a clear priority with his commitment to target 40 percent of his planned investment in a clean energy revolution to disadvantaged communities. States should direct any stimulus dollars, as well as revenues from carbon pricing and climate programs, to support communities that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Listen to your constituencies

Biden made climate a central piece of his platform, reflecting a top priority for many voters. On election night, Fox News reported that 70 percent of American voters support “increasing government spending on green and renewable energy.” At the state level, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment to mandate that the state’s electric utilities reach at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. At the municipal level, voters in Columbus authorized the city to establish an green-energy electricity aggregation plan aimed at supplying 100 percent of the city’s power needs with renewable energy by 2023, and in Denver voters approved an increase in sales tax to fund climate-related programs.

We have seen that when states lead the way on climate policy, they have reaped a myriad of economic, social and public health benefits for businesses and constituents alike. Now, with new federal leadership in place, they can work together with the Biden administration and unleash even more opportunities and momentum.

Alli Gold Roberts is the director of state policy at Ceres.

Tags Climate change Climate change mitigation Emissions reduction Joe Biden Sustainable energy

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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