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As 2018 Elections Approach, States and Business Must Drive Climate-Smart Policy

October 29, 2018

By Alli Gold Roberts - Ceres

With the 2018 elections right around the corner, states and business continue to lead the move toward clean energy and clean transportation solutions to accelerate a low-carbon economy.

Recent legislative sessions yielded critical progress across the country in reducing emissions, furthering clean energy investment, and tackling transportation emissions. However, as we welcome newly elected state leaders and head into 2019 legislative sessions, there is more work to be done. These leaders are well positioned to lead the charge toward a cleaner future.

Major companies are increasingly making bold emissions reduction commitments as they look to meet their sustainability goals. This year Levi Strauss and Co. and Lyft, two members of the Ceres BICEP Network, raised the bar with new targets aligned with the ambition needed to tackle climate change. Lyft is the first rideshare company to commit to carbon neutrality and 100 percent renewable energy, and Levis launched a bold new strategy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in owned-and-operated facilities by 90 percent and emissions across their supply chain by 40 percent.

With the declining costs of wind and solar, local economies benefit from clean, reliable resources. Utilizing a variety of policy mechanisms, state leaders are competing to capture these investments in their states.

More renewable energy for the grid

In 2018, multiple states took bold moves to increase their renewable portfolio standards (RPS), policies that require utilities to get a certain percentage of their energy from renewable resources. Most notably, California passed SB100, which set a target of achieving 60 percent renewable energy by 2030 as well as an aspirational target to source 100 percent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey all increased their RPS targets with a look toward the growing offshore wind industry that many coastal states hope to attract. Businesses were and are engaged in many of these debates, advocating for more renewable energy resources and promoting the benefits they provide for all ratepayers.

Some states, such as Arizona and Nevada, also have ballot initiatives on the table in November offering voters a chance to consider increased energy standards. Following the threat of a ballot initiative in Michigan, the local utilities voluntarily committed to a 35 percent renewable energy goal by 2030—recognizing the feasibility, low cost, and reliability benefits.

As companies look to achieve their ambitious clean energy goals, many are making investment decisions based on where they can gain access to cost-effective renewable energy resources and advocating for policies to help make that possible. For example, during the 2018 New Hampshire legislative session, a bipartisan group of legislators passed a bill lifting the net metering cap from one megawatt to five megawatts for businesses and towns wanting to invest in onsite renewable energy. This same bipartisan group of legislators was just 14 votes shy of overriding Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of the legislation during a special session this fall. Companies including Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Timberland, Worthen Industries, and others were strong advocates for the proposal, stating that raising the cap “would make our electric grid more stable, reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, and would save New Hampshire businesses money.”

Market-based solutions to reduce emissions

Market-based solutions to curb carbon emissions also gained traction in 2018 with proposals under consideration in multiple states across the country. For example, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to require the state to create a market-based mechanism to curb emissions from both the transportation and building sectors. In Washington state, voters will have a chance to vote on I-1631 in November, a proposal that would establish a fee on carbon emissions aimed at curbing pollution. More than 100 businesses, including Expedia, Microsoft, REI, Virginia Mason, and others support the initiative as a way to lower emissions while strengthening the state economy, reducing health impacts, and protecting Washington’s thriving outdoor and tourism industries.

Taking steps to decarbonize transportation

The transportation sector is now the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the urgency for low-carbon transportation solutions is significant. States across the country are stepping up to the challenge. At the Global Climate Action Summit in September, Virginia announced plans to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a collaborative effort among Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Companies including Adobe, Mars, Nestle, Salesforce, and Unilever have called on the Commonwealth to set a strong vision for the electrification of the transportation sector and prioritize strategies that maximize emission reductions.

In June, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the Air Quality Control Commission to initiate a rulemaking on the Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard. In response to significant public comment, the commissioners voted to consider the Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard as well. Together, these two standards will help put cleaner and more energy-efficient cars on the road. Aspen Skiing Company, Burton Snowboards, Clif Bar, New Belgium Brewing, Smartwool, and Colorado Ski Country USA were among the companies that shared a letter with the governor expressing support for both standards. They wrote, “By increasing the availability of clean vehicles in Colorado, these standards will provide Coloradans with a broad set of positive outcomes and generate significant benefits for our bottom line.”

On the legislative side, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are just two of the many states considering legislation to increase electric vehicle charging infrastructure and deployment. Last week, New Jersey’s Senate Energy and Environment Committee voted out a bill that would create statewide electric vehicle targets, investments in public charging infrastructure, and state rebate program. As we look to 2019, more states are likely to continue to this trend.

When it comes to forward momentum on emissions reductions, states are showcasing how policy can help tackle these challenges, while growing their economies. As clean energy and clean transportation become the norm for the business community, states have made it clear that they are ready to welcome those investments and spur the transition to a low-carbon future.

Alli Gold Roberts is a senior manager for state policy at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

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