State and Federal Friction on Green Energy

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business

Over the past three years, the Trump Administration has been undertaking a massive rollback of federal environmental regulations, to the applause of Republicans and the chagrin of Democrats. As of December 2019, at least 58 environmental rules had been completely rolled back, while another 37 rollbacks were in progress. These rollbacks have affected multiple areas of policy, including air pollution, water quality, drilling and extraction. The administration contends that these repeals are necessary to stimulate the economy and remove barriers to business, but at the state level, opponents are taking action against them.

One of the primary reactions to this ongoing federal rollback of environmental regulations has been the emboldening of blue states to shore up their own environmental policies. The main strategy for promoting green energy in the states has been the adoption of renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – percentage based clean energy goals that states pledge to reach by a specified year. These standards range from modest – Wisconsin met its goal of 10 percent by 2015 already – to goals of 100 percent renewable energy, already adopted by California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, New York and Washington. Many of these “100 percent” goals seek to take effect by 2045 or 2050. These standards have existed for decades, since Iowa enacted the first in 1983, but in recent years they have exploded in popularity as the environmental movement has gained steam.

In total, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted RPS, while an additional eight have enacted voluntary renewable energy targets. In 2019 alone, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, New York and Washington pushed their existing standards to 100 percent. Another eight states considered bills that would have enacted or strengthen existing RPS portfolios. Some though, have gone in the opposite direction: this year Ohio slashed its RPS with the goal of eliminating it entirely by 2027, criticizing the standard as a waste of government resources.

With the Trump Administration continuing to roll back environmental regulations through 2020 and potentially far beyond, states will look to shore up their own RPS standards: Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has already called for the state to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2040, the most ambitious goal to date. Virginia Democrats, emboldened by their recent takeover of the General Assembly, are hopeful that the state will make the change from a voluntary to a mandatory RPS in 2020, in addition to putting more focus on reducing carbon emissions. Other states will certainly push for the 100 percent goal as the 2020 legislative sessions begin to kick off.

In Nevada, voters will decide in November whether to enshrine the state’s 50 percent RPS by 2030 in the state’s constitution. The 2020 elections will be consequential to environmental policy well outside of this ballot initiative, however. Should there be another blue wave in 2020 as there was in 2018, we can expect to see a flood of new environmental legislation and regulations at both the state and federal levels. Should the status quo remain, then we can expect to see the state/federal war of attrition carry on for another election cycle.