What can state legislatures do to slow climate change?

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The Supreme Court of the United States decision in West Virginia vs. EPA last week seriously limits the executive power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overturning decades of judicial deference to the expertise of bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the court promoted an alternative “Major Questions” doctrine – concluding that federal government agencies have limited discretion to act on matters of “great economic and political importance”.

In this case, the court cut short the power of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The reason? The court ruled that the EPA’s previous regulations exceeded the powers granted to the agency under the Clean Air Act 1970.

Last week’s decision gives more responsibility to federal and state legislatures to enact new climate policies. If Congress or state legislatures seek to fill this gap, they can draw on a body of active research from political scientists and policy experts on the most effective policy designs and messages to make climate policies more politically viable. . Despite disagreements on some details, one point is clear from this work: proposed climate policy measures are most successful when they deliver clear and tangible benefits to the public.

Carbon pricing is not the problem

The use of a “price of pollution” approach has become a major conflict in the climate policy debate. Some experts Argue this these “price-based” policies, as a carbon tax or emissions trading, are more likely to trigger economic objections higher energy prices, making them politically less viable than traditional regulatory approaches. Numerous studies to confirm that the arguments on economic effects are particularly important in climate change policy.

However, new research suggests that economic arguments may appear as frequently for traditional regulatory policies as for price-based strategies, challenging this critique of pricing. For instance, our new study shows that economic arguments were also dominant in two recent climate policy debates: Virginia and Ontario, Canada. During the 2020 passage of Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, which took a regulatory approach, nearly 75% of opposing arguments were economic, focusing on rising energy prices and impacts on taxpayers.

This is almost identical to the frequency of economic arguments attacking Ontario in 2016 price-based policy. The prevalence of economic criticism of regulatory policies is consistent with the long history of attacks on older, allegedly too costly US environmental policies. These attacks targeted, for example, the Clean Air Act (as argued by plaintiffs in West Virginia) and the Clean Water Act.

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Economic benefits are essential

The research suggests that legislative solutions for any type of climate policy that provide clear and immediate benefits to the public may prove more effective. This is particularly true when legislation addresses concerns related to energy prices as well as public health.

This strategy was essential to the political success of long-term price-based climate policies, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeastern United States which is now add new states to his initial group of adopters. By devoting the majority of revenue from the price of carbon pollution to helping homeowners reduce their energy use and costs, this initiative has generated a lot of political support. Other price-based policies have had similar political experiences. Conversely, Ontario’s efforts failed, after refoulement that lawmakers had ignored public concerns about energy costs.

At the same time, research indicates that the tangible economic benefits to the public are also increasing the popularity of non-price based approaches like the Green New Deal. Support for public investment mandates and policies to increase renewable energy production increase when combined with tangible economic benefits like new jobs, higher wages, or better housing options.

Local air quality is important

Surprisingly, another key consideration for any climate policy seems to be improving local air quality. Climate change experts tend to describe emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other “air toxics” as “co-pollutantsassociated with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But these co-pollutants are often at the heart of environmental policy.

States like California have only been able to expand their ambitious climate policy goals through growth focus on reducing toxic substances in the airespecially for disadvantaged communities often subject to higher levels of local air pollution. Research shows that this trend of greater consideration of local air quality improvements in climate policy has spread to other areas. jurisdictions and is another important tangible benefit that politically successful climate legislation is likely to demand.

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Public benefits can be the key to successful climate legislation

Thus, there is surprising agreement on what is driving greater political support for climate legislation. Voters seem more likely to support legislation that provides tangible and immediate benefits to the public.

Lawmakers who want to act on climate change after the recent Supreme Court decision may want to keep this principle of public benefits in mind – rather than being distracted by arguments about whether to use a policy based on prices to seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Leigh Raymond, professor of political science at Purdue University, is the author of “Reclaiming the atmospheric commons: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and a New Model of Emissions Trading” (MIT Press, 2016).

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