For Brookings, Barry Rabe discusses state and federal tension around climate policy

January 30, 2018

In a new blog for the Brookings Institution, Barry Rabe looks into the difficulties surrounding climate policy in America, detailing how fluctuating positions at the federal level have impacted states and their individual commitments.

In “Can states deliver on climate promises?,” Rabe's January 26 Brookings blog, he describes “the limits of executive-driven actions that lack legislative branch buy-in," referring to the Trump Administration's efforts to dial back the climate initiatives undertaken by their predecessors. According to Rabe, “these federal reversals have stirred much public outcry by governors and attorneys general in a number of states,” and many states with already-standing commitments to reduce emissions have continued their efforts.

Nonetheless, Rabe also notes the difficulty of translating these state declarations into “formal policy commitments,” specifically without the guiding hand of a federal mandate. Rabe points to California and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state consortium cooperating to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as examples of states already leading a national effort. Despite the strength of these state initiatives, however, “relatively little new climate-friendly policy was adopted during legislative sessions in most other statehouses during 2017," says Rabe. 

With mid-term elections looming and significant climate challenges requiring the attention of state legislatures nationwide, Rabe sees 2018 as “an important test of just what happens if we are returning to a more state-centered climate policy arena.” This test, as Rabe describes it, will ultimately prove whether states are both willing and able to develop their own plans around climate protection, or if a “waning federal commitment” is a hurdle too large for these states to conquer.

—By Larry Sanders (MPP ’18)

Barry Rabe is the J. Ira and Nikki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy at the Ford School, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Statehouse & Greenhouse, Beyond NIMBY, When Federalism Works, Fragmentation and Integration in State Environmental Management, and the forthcoming MIT Press book, Can We Price Carbon?