Searching for a New Deal on Climate? Look to the States

In response to ambitious climate proposals like the Green New Deal, Robert J. Klee asks: "Is there a version of this massive investment in decarbonization somewhere out there that is aggressive enough to meet the bar set by the scientists, yet pragmatic enough to work politically and as a matter of law and policy?" 

The answer: "Yes, there is." Klee is a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection from 2014 to 2019. In this series, he highlights policies from states across the country that could form the architecture of a comprehensive U.S. decarbonization plan.

Part I lays the groundwork and provides a roadmap for the series. Part II covers setting and achieving climate targets, Part III explores how to transform the electric grid, and Part IV takes on transit. Part V concludes the collection with an outlook on how to scale up states' successes. 

Brayton Point

Demolition of Brayton Point, the last coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts, in April 2019. The location will serve as a site for future offshore wind development. (Dave Souza/The Herald News of Fall River via AP)

Part I: Searching for a New Deal on Climate? Look to the States

Is there a version of decarbonization somewhere out there that is aggressive enough to meet the bar set by the scientists, yet pragmatic enough to work politically and as a matter of law and policy? Yes, there is. We should look no further than the blue and red states that are currently leading on climate to see the strategies in action that would achieve the swift and far-reaching emissions reductions we require.
Block Island Wind Farm

Block Island Wind Farm / Chris Bentley / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Part II: Setting Climate Targets and Creating Tools to Achieve Them

For years, red and blue states across the country have been building the policy architecture for ambitious national climate action. Part II of "Searching for a New Deal on Climate" explores how the federal government can follow the states’ lead on setting economy-wide greenhouse gas targets, establishing renewable energy requirements for electric utility portfolios, and building out new renewable energy generation.
Rooftop solar installers in CO

Workers install rooftop solar panels at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Research Support Facility in Golden, CO in 2013 / U.S. Department of Energy

Part III: A Modernized, Efficient and Equitable Electric Grid

States across the country have led efforts to revamp the electric grid: modernizing century-old systems, promoting energy efficiency, and investing in distributed energy generation that replaces central grids. To limit climate change to levels on par with science-based targets, the entire nation will have to replicate these efforts.
BMW i3 charging

A BMW i3 charging / Karlis Dambrans / CC BY 2.0

Part IV: Zero-Carbon Transit

To support decarbonization efforts, we will have to overhaul our transportation system. Over the course of the past century, we used fossil fuels to revolutionize the way we move from place to place — creating unprecedented mobility, but substantially contributing to climate change. About 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. But we can look to key states for a glimpse of what climate leadership on transit looks like.
Greta Thunberg at New York City climate strike

Climate activist Greta Thunberg at New York City's Climate Strike in September 2019. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez.)

Part V: Building the Low-Carbon Future

These policies, taken together and adopted at national scale, would allow the United States to do its part in limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Can it be done? The final installment of “Look to the States” concludes with an outlook and some tools — drawing once more from state-level successes — for putting a decarbonization plan into practice.