In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set a deadline: Snuff greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 to keep warming from creeping past 1.5 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which lie the worst consequences of an overheated planet. Technologically, the scientists pointed out, we have the tools to make such a drastic clamp-down happen, but we’ve struggled to put them to work.
The past two years have provided an especially dire preview of what may come if we don’t. In 2019, wildfires flared in southern California and eastern Australia, destroying homes and habitats. And already 2020 has seen more fires Down Under, massive flooding in the Southeast, and Antarctic temps hitting close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in February—accelerating melting and pushing up sea levels worldwide.
In the US, 2019’s proposed Green New Deal, the brainchild of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Edward Markey (MA), presented the most ambitious climate blueprint to ever cross lawmakers’ desks. The resolution—inspired by both FDR’s sweeping 1930s social and economic safety net and modern, groundbreaking climate policies in progressive states like California—called for a transformation of energy, economic, and social structures. The grand plan aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions by switching to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, while providing a safety net for displaced workers, increasing the efficiency of buildings, and decarbonizing agriculture and manufacturing. Recognizing that climate change often hurts low-income communities the most, it also addresses income inequality through goals like providing training opportunities for a new wave of green jobs.
Washington has not yet answered the GND’s call to action. Bills that would advance objectives like making buildings more efficient and curbing emissions have sputtered, the US has no federal renewable-energy target, and the current administration has overwritten emissions-reduction efforts like former president Barack Obama’s plan to phase out coal.
The state level, however, is a different story. In the absence of a federal mandate, local governments and institutions are stepping up. “Since the Green New Deal, we’ve seen more [state] governments put forth more policies,” says Ben Beachy, Director of Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program. At least 20 states have adopted, or are considering, a 100 percent renewables requirement for electric utilities, according to a report last year from EQ Research, and 100 cities have done so, too. A few governments, including those representing Maine, Los Angeles, and New York City, branded their policies as Green New Deal avatars. In others, the influence is more covert.
As states pursue fixes tailored to their individual priorities—from phasing out coal-fired power to getting more electric vehicles on the road—the GND doctrine is gaining momentum, climate policy experts say. State initiatives can light the way for the specific federal policies needed to realize Green New Deal goals, such as electric vehicle rebates or a carbon tax, says Rob Klee, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “To me that’s exciting; it’s showing the potential to create a functioning government and policy that actually works.”
These are the climate policies, fixes, and initiatives that could help each state gain ground on Green New Deal goals—or get a boost if a national effort gets underway.
Scroll through, or use the links below to jump to your state:
ALABAMA could weather extreme temps
In September 2019, amid a “flash drought” that saw the mercury reach 103 degrees in some parts of the state, Auburn University earned a $3 million grant to fund an unusual climate program. An interdisciplinary team of researchers will educate graduate students about climate resilience and then send them into communities to apply what they know. That could include showing farmers how to switch to heat-tolerant crops such as less-thirsty strains of corn or helping emergency-response workers prepare for especially high temps. Gearing up for sweltering times is key in this poor, hot state: The EPA estimates that in 75 years, Alabama will annually endure 30 to 60 days above 95 degrees, compared with about 15 days today. By 2060, extreme temperatures will claim 760 additional lives each year, by some estimates.
ALASKA could retrain for renewables
Alaskan temperatures have risen more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, which is twice the pace of much of the world. The rapid warming puts many of the state’s ecosystems at risk; for example, thawing permafrost along the coast threatens homes, and vanishing sea ice makes it increasingly difficult for Inuit communities to hunt for primary food sources like seals and polar bears. The simplest way to reduce the 586,000-square-mile state’s 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (among the highest per capita in the nation) would be to transition from oil to alternatives like wind. But state and federal lawmakers continue to reject proposals to do so. Senator Lisa Murkowski, for instance, advocates carbon capture and new nuclear power plants—expensive and controversial prospects. Regional environmental groups like the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition are pushing for an Alaskan version of the Green New Deal, which would provide retraining for thousands of fossil-fuel workers to ensure a “just transition” to jobs in solar, wind, and other renewable sources. Back to top.
ARIZONA could slash electricity costs
Despite the Southwestern state’s vast solar potential (the industry already supports some 7,500 jobs) and higher-than-average warming (temperatures have risen 3.2 degrees over the past century), Senator Kyrsten Sinema was one of only three Democrats to reject the federal GND resolution. A 2018 state ballot measure to adopt a renewables target of 50 percent by 2030 also failed. Yet, incentives from a GND could speed sluggish compliance with a 2010 mandate aimed at tamping down rising electricity demand. That directive from utility regulator Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) requires utilities to achieve 22 percent energy savings by 2020 by, among other things, offering rebates on energy-efficient lightbulbs, HVAC systems, and smart thermostats. The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, Mi Familia Vota, and other groups have urged the ACC to extend the target date to 2030 and up the goal to 35 percent. “I think it’s helpful to have a Green New Deal out there for communities who are thinking about doing something” to rein in climate change, says Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
ARKANSAS could go big on carbon farming
Agriculture is the Natural State’s largest industry (there are 49,346 farms there) and research out of the University of Arkansas shows that all that acreage could play a big role in offsetting emissions by pulling carbon from the atmosphere into the ground. The practices that reduce greenhouse gases, such as planting cover crops and going easy on tilling, also enhance soil health and help retain moisture, which can help farmers withstand more-intense droughts as climate change worsens. Arkansas has been a locus of experimentation in so-called carbon farming for several years: In 2017, Microsoft struck a deal to buy carbon-offset credits from four rice farmers. But among state policymakers and officials, there’s been little effort to encourage farmers to adopt the practices, which could be achieved through incentives like technical assistance from the state’s Department of Agriculture. This southern story isn’t without its bright spots, though: Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan has signed onto the national Climate Mayors coalition, and the city’s Energy Action Plan sets a target of 100 percent clean power for municipal operations by 2030 and citywide by 2050.
CALIFORNIA could boost building efficiency
The Golden State’s commitment to reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2045 inspired the Green New Deal. One of the hallmarks of its plan, which tackles the challenge of reining in emissions in the nation’s most populous state, is its focus on climate-minded building. In 2018, lawmakers passed a measure to take steps to require that homes and commercial buildings—California’s second-largest climate polluter, after transportation—consume 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Much of those gains could be achieved by swapping out natural-gas-powered stoves and heaters for electric versions. To help households make the transition, the California Public Utilities Commission approved $50 million to invest in electric-everything buildings for low-income residents in the central San Joaquin Valley. In April 2019, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a plan to make similar retrofits to commercial buildings and homes by 2050. The effort would also create a zero-emissions transportation network to encourage residents of the famously car-dependent city to use public transit, scooters, and other low-carbon ways of getting around.
COLORADO could make homes greener
Buoyed by the GND resolution and the election of Governor Jared Polis—who wants to switch the state to 100 percent renewables by 2040 and cut emissions 90 percent below 2005 levels by 2050—green-minded lawmakers and environmental groups like Conservation Colorado successfully pushed several broad carbon-cutting bills in the state legislature in spring 2019. One measure, which Polis signed this past May, establishes new energy-efficiency standards for air conditioners, lightbulbs, and other power hogs; the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates the effort could avoid 3 million metric tons of carbon pollution over 15 years. But the city of Boulder has gone further, declaring a climate emergency in July 2019, and committing to going fully renewable by 2030 and slashing greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The centerpiece of the effort: replacing natural-gas furnaces in homes with electric heaters powered by renewables like wind and solar.
CONNECTICUT could go big on wind
The Constitution State, with its 618 miles of Long Island Sound shoreline, is awhirl in wind, and a recent piece of legislation aims to harness a lot more of it—and turn Connecticut into a regional hub for gusty offshore wind power. Under a 2019 law signed by Governor Ned Lamont, the state will increase its capacity from 300 to 2,300 megawatts by 2030, enough to run about 1 million homes. The buildout, along with a new effort to swap public buses and other parts of the state’s vehicle fleet for zero-emission models, aims to help meet a 2018 goal to slash emissions 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030, while providing new opportunities for economic development.
DELAWARE could capture even more sun
As one of 25 states and territories in the US Climate Alliance, a coalition that will adhere to the goals of the Paris Agreement, the “small wonder” state is drawing up a crucial plan, due in December 2020, to achieve a 26-to-28 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025. About 2.8 percent of the state’s electricity already comes from solar, a large step toward its target of 3.5 percent in the same time frame. Its pioneering Green Energy Grant program grants, established back in 1999, have funded more than $54.3 million in renewable projects, all of which has increased installed solar capacity from 8.6 megawatts in 2010 to more than 100 megawatts in 2019. A separate program, the Energy Efficiency Investment Fund, gives grants to local governments, businesses, and nonprofits to fund efficiency upgrades like better insulation and weatherstripping.
FLORIDA could get residents off the beach
South Florida’s imminent inundation from sea-level rise makes national headlines—about 2.4 million people live within 4 feet of the high-tide line. After replacing Rick Scott, who was widely criticized for his lack of action on climate, new Governor Ron DeSantis has managed to push the state forward. In August 2019, he hired the first climate resilience officer and persuaded the legislature to allocate $5.5 million to help local governments plan for sea-level rise. Most action is occurring at the local level already, but one community’s solution can become another community’s problem. In Miami, for example, social-justice advocates are working to help low-income residents in Little Haiti, which sits on higher ground, withstand “climate gentrification” as wealthier people retreat from beachfront property. Efforts include preserving existing affordable housing and advocating for new low-income projects. The Miami City Council recently adopted a resolution to study climate impacts on housing and potential solutions, including how to manage taxes so residents can stay in their homes.
GEORGIA could protect crops from extreme weather
Economic hardship from climate change is expected to hit Georgia especially hard. According to a 2008 study, a 2007 drought caused $1.3 billion in losses, including $92.5 million in peanut crops—a preview of what’s to come as prolonged dry periods become more frequent and severe. The number of dangerously hot days is increasing, and sea levels are rising an inch per decade, faster than much of the rest of the East Coast, eroding beaches and flooding low-lying areas. In the absence of government action, researchers at three universities created the Georgia Climate Project, which aims to develop an economically beneficial and socially equitable path to carbon neutrality in the Peach State. To do that, says Kim Cobb of Georgia Tech, advocates must “decouple the conversation from the national-level, tit-for-tat mudslinging-fest” and instead focus on local benefits. In May 2018, the project published a “road map” that laid out priorities, including girding the coast; helping farmers increase resilience to weather extremes with strategic crop choices; and identifying and protecting the state’s at-risk, low-income communities. It remains to be seen whether officials will turn the project’s ideas into actual policy.
HAWAII could gird its shorelines
Mindful that the Aloha State’s celebrated Waikiki Beach could be underwater in 20 years, the Hawaiian legislature might soon accelerate its ambitious target of going 100 percent renewable by 2045. House bill 1487 creates a pilot project to buffer Honolulu’s shoreline against sea-level rise and storms by expanding parks and establishing emergency access routes; it also requires the state to study the feasibility of a carbon tax. In September 2019, Hawaii issued “climate equity” recommendations that call for the most-vulnerable communities to be identified, protected, and made part of climate policy decisions. To speed an all-out switch to renewables, the state must also upgrade the grid with devices called smart inverters; the tech helps smooth out energy spikes and dips to provide consistent power around the clock.
IDAHO could go deeper into geothermal
State lawmakers held their first-ever meeting on climate change in March 2019, two months after Governor Brad Little acknowledged that warming is, indeed, happening. So far, they have only called for more research, but Boise is blazing its own path. City officials are expanding its geothermal system, which now powers 92 residences and businesses downtown (some six million square feet) with 177-degree water circulating through more than 20 miles of underground pipes. The build-out, which will involve adding 10 million to 15 million more gallons of hot water a year, is part of a plan to transition to all sustainable power by 2035. If it succeeds, Boise will be the only Idaho city to run solely on renewables.
ILLINOIS could retrofit more homes
The Green New Deal owes its call for climate action that helps lift people out of poverty in part to this state’s 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, which the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition regards as a model for how nationwide climate legislation should work. In addition to a standard raft of new energy standards, the law also set aside $5 billion for programs to help households improve insulation and make other efficiency upgrades. The measure will create 7,000 new retrofitting jobs each year and cut $4 billion in energy costs for Illinois families. Under the law, the state now also provides training for solar installation, and gives priority to those with low incomes and the formerly incarcerated. The measure also helps low-income families purchase solar systems.
INDIANA could afford to quit coal
According to an October 2019 report from a Hoosier State task force set up to develop new energy policies, keeping the state’s aging coal plants running for another 30 years would cost customers $20 billion more than switching to renewables. Environmental organizations such as the Hoosier chapter of the Sierra Club, however, are doubtful that the task force’s findings will do much to rally support for GND-like measures, given the resistance among state lawmakers. Still, utility companies are eyeing an eventual switch to renewable sources like solar and wind. In November, the Indiana Public Service Company announced it will go coal-free within a decade—though, it’s also asking for permission to raise rates to help pay for the effort.
IOWA could keep renewable installers working
Between June 2018 and May 2019, 50 inches of rain—the most precipitation in a 12-month period since record-keeping began in 1895—drenched Iowa. Yet state officials are rolling back climate-mitigation measures already on the books. A law passed by the legislature in spring 2018 capped the cost of energy-efficiency programs and lifted green-power requirements for municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. Environmental groups say the move will likely increase the state’s emissions and spur layoffs of energy auditors, insulation installers, and other workers in the efficiency industry. One bright spot is Iowa City, whose action plan aims to snuff emissions 45 percent by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. Among the proposals to get there: expanding the city’s carbon-grabbing and street-cooling tree canopy with up to 10,000 saplings, creating community solar projects, and encouraging energy-efficient construction by rebating a portion of building permit fees in exchange for green updates.
KANSAS could help farms go green
Across the wind-whipped Great Plains, market forces are driving GND-like programs more than policy mandates. Kansas—which gets 36 percent of its power from wind, more than any other state—is Exhibit A in how to grow a renewables industry in a hostile political climate. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted against the GND resolution, but an increasing number of farmers and ranchers are boosting their income by leasing some of their land to wind developers. Some agriculturalists are also beginning to manage fields so that they suck more carbon from the atmosphere—another item on the GND to-do list. These types of soil improvements, such as alternating cash crops with carbon-sequestering cover crops like radishes and wheat, help offset emissions while improving farmers’ bottom lines: A new program pays them to manage for carbon, and harvestable cover crops can boost income.
KENTUCKY could retrain its miners
Before the Green New Deal was a glint in Edward Markey’s and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s eyes, a group in the Bluegrass State was cooking up the “Empower Kentucky” plan. Crafted in 2017 by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a justice advocacy group, the blueprint emphasizes energy efficiency, renewables, and placing a price on carbon dioxide pollution to discourage industrial emissions—all while helping miners find work in other professions. Now comes the hard part: implementation. The group worked to restore full funding for the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (the coal tax that supports it was slashed by 55 percent for 2019), which provides medical benefits and monthly assistance.
LOUISIANA could safeguard shoreline communities
In mid-2019, Louisiana issued an ambitious plan—the first of its kind in the US—to help people at risk from rising sea levels, hurricanes, and high-tide “sunny day flooding” relocate from coastal areas. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has funded the first phase, which identifies and offers buyouts to the most vulnerable residents in six Gulf-adjacent parishes, where a combination of swelling oceans, erosion, and sinking land (called subsidence) is already eating away at the ground. On Isle de Jean Charles, 80 miles from New Orleans, relocation is already underway under a previous HUD-funded effort, though only about half of residents have opted to move so far. The next (and as-yet-unfunded) phase of the plan will also help those who choose to stay by elevating homes, relocating urban centers, and altering transportation routes to bypass flood-prone areas.
MAINE could retrain its lobstermen
In Maine, it’s not fossil-fuel workers who need help, it’s lobstermen, who have watched their catches migrate north to cooler waters. In 2019, lawmakers passed a measure to establish the state’s own version of the Green New Deal aimed at lifting up lobstermen and other workers while torpedoing climate pollution. The law created a task force to craft a strategy for boosting renewables—especially offshore wind and solar, which could help the state, one of sunniest in New England, hit its ambitious target of 45 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030 and an 80-percent dip by 2050—while creating good jobs and ensuring low-income households have access to affordable solar power. “We know these climate-change solutions are coming, and we want to make sure workers are at the table, so we make sure they support working people,” says Andy O’Brien, a spokesman for the Maine AFL-CIO. The law also includes a provision that about a quarter of jobs during construction of grid-scale renewables, such as a large solar array, go to workers enrolled in an apprenticeship program. The trainees include former lobstermen, military veterans, and recent graduates.
MARYLAND could get going on a renewable switch
The Old Line State, where sea-level rise could cause $19 billion worth of damage by 2100, has some major climate culprits: vehicles, the military, and six coal-fired power plants. Governor Larry Hogan has unveiled a clean-energy plan, but it favors building small “modular” nuclear plants and using carbon-capture technology to limit emissions from natural gas plants—decidedly un-GND-like solutions. Lawmakers have also floated a proposal to charge a fee on fossil-fuel imports as a means to fund renewable alternatives. Climate activists favor a more aggressive approach: a full-on energy switch by 2023; renewables training for fossil-fuel workers, people of color, and those in marginalized communities; and a reduction in pollution from military installations and aircraft. It’s a tall order. The state is striving to deliver on a 2016 promise to cut emissions 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2030. “We want to keep pushing because we’re absolutely one of the most vulnerable states,” said David Smedick of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are really susceptible to sea-level rise, and we are already seeing property at risk.”
MASSACHUSETTS could become more resilient
The Pilgrim State recently set aside a big pot of money—more than $2.4 billion—much of which to help communities gird against inland flooding, rising seas, and extreme weather. Through the Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness program, towns from Acton to Worcester have received grants to craft adaptation and resilience plans, restore wetlands to help soak up floodwaters, plant trees, replace culverts to improve drainage, and other projects. As of February 2020, 82 percent of communities had enrolled, according to the Governor Charlie Baker’s office. Now, he wants to up the ante: The administration’s proposed budget for 2021 would provide millions more for resilience efforts. In January, Baker called for upping the state’s climate target to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, from a current goal of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. “Time is not our friend,” the governor said during his January 22 State of the Commonwealth speech.
MICHIGAN could speed its renewable switch
Fresh leadership has thrust Michigan to the forefront of state climate action. Newly elected Attorney General Dana Nessel entered the fray specifically to stop a project to restore a section of Enbridge’s aging Line 5 oil pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, out of fears of a spill that would foul Lakes Michigan and Huron. And new Governor Gretchen Whitmer—one of a handful of gubernatorial candidates who campaigned on climate action in the wake of the GND—quickly created an Office of Climate and Energy and signed up the state to heed the Paris Agreement’s call for reducing emissions. Meanwhile, in a separate undertaking up north, the Upper Peninsula Power Co., which charges some of the nation’s highest electricity rates, plans to deliver energy from a new solar array within two years. Once running, it will boost its solar capacity by 50 percent and, ultimately, lower costs for customers.
MINNESOTA could help homeowners go green
While statewide initiatives inspired by the Green New Deal have faltered in the legislature (they’ll try again in the new session), several Minnesota cities have stepped up their own efforts to take on climate culprits. St. Paul, where 60 percent of total emissions come from buildings, has a draft climate plan that calls for swapping natural-gas heating units for electric ones. To help tackle the 30 percent of emissions that come from transportation, officials are gearing up to trade the current fleet of police cruisers for electric vehicles. Across the river in Minneapolis, a new rule would require an energy audit when a home is sold, with the idea that buyers will be inspired to make efficiency upgrades like installing better insulation and weatherstripping around doors and windows. Meanwhile, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, has vowed to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
MISSISSIPPI could beat the heat
Despite the specter of rising sea levels along the Gulf Coast, lingering effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and flooding in the Mississippi River Delta in 2018, the state has done little to address climate change. New Governor Tate Reeves, elected last November, has said he sees no need to take action, and has called the GND a “disaster.” But that doesn’t mean Magnolia State residents wouldn’t stand to benefit from a federal program. GND-fueled investment could provide relocation help for poor residents in the most at-risk flood areas (like Long Beach on the coast, and Vicksburg and Natchez on the Mississippi River) and help hospitals prepare for a potential spike in heat-related illnesses. The state faces some 90 days a year with a heat index of 105 degrees F in the coming decades, high enough to cause deadly heat stroke. Funds could also go toward retraining workers in the state’s oil and gas industry, which employs about 60,000 people.
MISSOURI could update more buildings
In a state that stands apart for its coal dependency—only Texas consumes more, according to the Energy Information Administration—St. Louis is doubling down on slashing emissions. A centerpiece of its blueprint is improving its buildings, which generate 77 percent of the city’s greenhouse gases. The Mississippi River town has already added weatherstripping, LEDs, updated HVACs, and other changes to three municipal structures, achieving Energy Star certification; with 2018 grant money from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge, the city will expand the program to structures in the private sector. St. Louis has also tweaked its building code to further increase efficiency: The requirements mandate that owners of structures larger than 50,000 square feet track and report their energy and water consumption each year, the first step toward curbing such use; those who don’t comply can be fined. Energy advocates consider the measures some of the strongest in the Midwest.
MONTANA could invest in carbon farming
Montana’s congressional delegation opposes the GND, but the resolution has emboldened local advocates to push for stronger climate protections. In February 2019, a group of local students and residents associated with the Sunrise Movement held a rally outside Senator Steve Daines’s office in Bozeman calling for a localized Green New Deal focused in part on the agriculture industry, which occupies 65 percent of the state’s land and contributes $4 billion to the economy each year. The idea involves working with ranchers and farmers to manage land in ways that draw more carbon dioxide from the air and into flora and soils, such as planting perennial crops that are superstars at sucking up CO2. The group is also pushing the state to upgrade buildings with better insulation and more-efficient appliances, and to expand alternative transportation options.
NEBRASKA could prepare for severe rains
Nebraska endured a bitter reminder of the ravages of climate change in spring 2019, when severe flooding inundated 2,000 homes, destroyed bridges, damaged $800 million worth of crops and livestock, and wrecked an Air Force base. Climate scientists say warming likely made the “bomb cyclone” worse than it otherwise would have been—excess humid air above seas turbocharges cyclones—and University of Nebraska analysis has warned of looming threats to the state’s economy, environment, and citizens. But Nebraska is one of only a handful of states that has not created its own resilience plan. That leaves local communities to take on the challenge themselves. One bright spot is state climatologist Martha Shulski’s outreach efforts; she is working with municipalities to help them prepare. The town of Bellevue, for example, has constructed rain gardens to help absorb runoff from parking lots, streets, and rooftops during downpours. Others are designating “heat shelters” to give the elderly and poor a cool place to go when temps spike.
NEVADA could run more on solar
While Nevada’s elected officials overwhelmingly opposed the Green New Deal, their constituents appear to be warming to the idea of climate action. According to a January 2019 poll by Colorado College, 74 percent of Nevada voters view climate change as a serious problem—a 16 percent jump since the last such poll in 2016. Las Vegas, known more for its excesses than its governance, has emerged as a leader in the state, which happens to boast some of the highest solar-energy potential in the nation: As of 2016, Sin City, which also happens to be the country’s fastest-warming burgh, runs all government buildings on 100 percent renewable power.
NEW HAMPSHIRE could finally ramp up its renewables
Under Governor Chris Sununu, a frequent target of environmentalist dismay, the Granite State has lagged behind its New England neighbors in climate action. Most recently, Sununu pulled out of the 11-state Transportation and Climate Initiative. New Hampshire has had a plan on the books since 2005 but could use a Green New Deal-style renewables surge, advocates like Environment New Hampshire say. The state boasts significant wind, hydropower, and biomass resources but has struggled to capitalize on them. In 2018, Sununu issued an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that still included fossil fuels, and, in February 2020, the 448-megawatt Merrimack coal-fired power plant announced it would stay open through at least 2024. But the tide might be turning: Sununu has convened a task force to explore how the state can tap into the stiff winds off its shores.
NEW JERSEY could make offshore wind happen
According to one recent study from Rutgers University, the Garden State will see a full foot of sea-level rise by 2030. State officials view offshore wind development as key to lowering emissions and boosting economic development. In fact, harnessing ocean breezes is a centerpiece of the new Energy Master Plan, which aims for 100 percent clean energy by 2050. After years of false starts, the blueprint, which echoes a November 2019 executive order, calls for firing up 7,500 megawatts by 2035, enough to juice 3 million homes. (That’s more than double the previous goal of 3,500 MW.) Still, the state has no offshore turbines now, so meeting the target will require a rapid buildout. Last June, the state approved what will be one of the largest such projects in the US, the 1,100 MW Ocean Wind development, which will sit 15 miles off the coast near Atlantic City. New Jersey is also working with other Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to tamp down emissions from the transportation sector, and is part of a 25-state coalition (that tally includes Puerto Rico) that’s agreed to adhere to the Paris Agreement.
NEW MEXICO could retrain coal workers
In spring 2019, new Governor Michele Lujan Grisham signed the landmark Energy Transition Act, which echoes the Green New Deal’s call to provide a safety net for fossil-fuel workers sidelined by the renewables revolution. When the San Juan Generating Station, the state’s largest polluter, closes in 2022—along with the nearby coal mine that feeds it—$20 million in workforce-training funds will help ease the pain of lost jobs; another $20 million will go to San Juan County to help offset reduced tax revenue. “We’re going to lead the country in investments in technology and renewable energy,” Grisham says. But critics note that even as New Mexico—the second-fastest-warming state in the US—weans itself off coal, it will continue to rely on oil and gas revenues from the Permian Basin, which produces more than 4 million barrels of crude oil a day and is a major emitter of the greenhouse gas methane.
NEW YORK could revamp more buildings
NYC has its very own Green New Deal, with its most iconic building at the center. Buildings contribute 70 percent of the Big Apple’s emissions, but the Empire State Building is leading the way on efficiency updates. Retrofits of the 102-story prewar tower include resealed windows and elevators that capture the energy generated during drops to help power ascents; the tweaks amount to a 38 percent reduction in its consumption. Following the Empire State’s lead, the city council passed a law this past year requiring about 50,000 large structures (above 25,000 square feet) to slash pollution from heaters and other outmoded systems by 40 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Property owners will have to install things like power-sipping lights, upgraded heating and cooling systems, and better insulation. The upgrades, which should create about 20,000 jobs, are estimated to cost about $4 billion, though owners will recoup some through energy savings. The law dovetails with an ambitious statewide effort, which, in addition to its own raft of building-efficiency updates, will focus on switching to clean energy—a move that could net some 212,000 new jobs in the Empire State.
NORTH CAROLINA could maintain its solar momentum
North Carolina is a climate leader in the sunny South, boasting more solar infrastructure than any other state in the region and ranking second nationwide. But the state is poised to backtrack: Its solar tax credit expired in 2015, and only one wind farm has gone up, despite ample potential. A Green New Deal would help spur expanded solar and wind development while also creating new jobs, or so say the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other environmental advocates. Governor Roy Cooper supports a renewables renaissance and, in October 2019, the state Department of Environmental Quality unveiled a plan that calls for accelerating “clean energy innovation, development, and deployment.” The goal: Cut greenhouse emissions from the power sector by 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and make the state carbon-neutral by 2050. An online portal will allow the public to track the effort’s progress.
NORTH DAKOTA could double down on wind
Some North Dakota lawmakers oppose climate action, and the Green New Deal, so strongly that they came close to banning wind farms in 2017. Rep. Kelly Armstrong has dubbed the GND “ridiculous” and warned it “would end North Dakota’s economy as we know it.” But despite elected officials’ antipathy toward GND principles, the state’s private sector is embracing emissions-slashing renewable development. One of the nation’s four most blustery states, North Dakota produces 25.8 percent of its power from wind. The wind industry employs between 3,000 and 4,000 people, and as prices continue to fall, the potential in the region is as vast as its zephyr-swept plains. “That’s not because of any kind of government intervention,” says Scott Skokol of the Dakota Resource Council. “If anything, the government is an inhibitor of the industry rather than something that’s fostering it.”
OHIO could finally tap into renewables
The Buckeye State remains heavily reliant on coal and natural gas, and ranks No. 6 in state greenhouse gas emissions. Ohio officials have largely ignored the Green New Deal and climate action in general, despite considerable green-power potential in the state. For example, turbines could produce about 55,000 megawatts, yet almost no new wind development has occurred since 2014. Cleveland, however, is forging its own path. Mayor Frank Jackson committed to cutting the city’s emissions by 80 percent (by prioritizing projects like 70 new miles of bike lanes) and going 100 percent renewable (see: plans to install solar panels atop Progressive Field) by 2050. The lakeside burg also hopes to plant 50,000 trees, a project that will absorb carbon dioxide while creating more walkable neighborhoods and, they hope, a healthier population; cut residential and commercial energy use by 50 percent and industrial use by 30 percent; and keep 50 percent of discarded food and other types of waste out of methane-belching landfills by 2030. The efforts have earned Cleveland an A grade from the Carbon Disclosure Project, making it among the 7 percent of towns to receive the top score.
OKLAHOMA could work out energy storage
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe is one of the nation’s loudest climate-change skeptics, but the state is nonetheless pursuing at least one Green New Deal tenet: a renewable-energy ramp-up. That’s because, in the Sooner State—one of the top four wind producers in the country, with more than 30 percent of its power generated by zephyrs—it’s good for business. Already about 7,000 Oklahomans work in wind, the state’s dominant renewable resource, more than natural gas and coal employ combined. The state is also working to solve the central problem with wind and solar: storing energy for times when the wind isn’t blowing and/or the sun isn’t shining. In July 2019, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and NextEra Energy Resources announced a 700-megawatt hybrid wind-and-solar project that features state-of-the-art battery storage to even out lulls. Excess energy from peak production times tucks into the battery to fill in gaps. The facility, which will be the largest such project in the country, will create about 300 new construction jobs and up to 15 operational ones.
OREGON could expand green infrastructure
In 2018, Portland voters approved an innovative ballot referendum that will create a “clean energy fund.” The 1 percent tax on major retailer profits should generate between $30 million and $70 million annually, according to the community coalition that led the effort, which will support a range of GND-like efforts. Those include job training for workers to transition to the renewables industry, green infrastructure projects like planting trees and rain gardens that capture stormwater runoff, and regenerative agriculture—a conservation-minded way of farming and ranching that, among other things, keeps livestock moving to avoid overgrazing, uses cover crops to keep fields sucking up CO2 between regular plantings, and adds compost to fields to improve soil health. At least half the revenue is earmarked to support such projects in low-income areas and communities of color. Statewide climate efforts in 2019 weren’t quite as successful: In June, Republican lawmakers left the state to prevent Democrats from having the quorum they needed to pass a bill that would have demanded emissions cuts from businesses.
PENNSYLVANIA could manage floodwaters
Like other East Coast states, flooding is one of the biggest threats Pennsylvania faces—though not from sea-level rise. In the case of places like landlocked Pittsburgh, heavier downpours are the danger. Pittsburgh United’s Clean Rivers Campaign has come up with an innovative solution: It’s working to secure public investments in green infrastructure—rainwater gardens to absorb intense storms, for example. The projects aim to reduce flooding in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods while creating jobs, and could provide a model for other cities facing similar risks. The effort reached a milestone last year, when the mayor’s budget included funding to complete the design for the Four Mile Run green infrastructure project, which will absorb rainwater from parts of five neighborhoods and help reduce the amount of sewage flowing into rivers when systems overflow during storms. Stormwater that once rushed across pavement will instead route to a new surface channel built to mimic the path of historic streams and handle some of the overflow.
RHODE ISLAND could harness the wind
The tiniest state in the union faces an outsize climate threat from sea-level rise, but few residents have the means to prepare for it: Rhode Island has the highest poverty rate in New England. With the aim of stimulating the economy and creating green jobs through renewables growth, it recently began working on its own version of the Green New Deal. Representatives from the fishing and farming industries, climate scientists, energy experts, and social justice advocates are studying the state’s climate risks and economic challenges and opportunities. For example, on the opportunities side of the ledger, Rhode Island has largely untapped offshore wind resources; about 95 percent of its wind potential lies at sea, yet breezes provide only about 0.5 percent of the state’s power. Renewables advocates hope the group’s efforts will see the state’s estimated 70 megawatts of land-based wind potential and 25 gigawatts of offshore resources finally developed.
SOUTH CAROLINA could capture the sun
The Palmetto State has some of the choicest renewable resources in the South: Nearly every square meter gets hit by almost 5.4 kilowatt hours of solar radiation each day. Yet only about 1 percent of the state’s power comes from the sun, though several new projects are underway. Climate advocates with the Coastal Conservation League point out that efforts could have been much farther along if the government had made good on a promise former Governor Mark Sanford’s administration made more than a decade ago to achieve a modest 5 percent emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. This year, lawmakers passed a bill that aims to change that; it removes a 2 percent cap on generation from home solar panels served by Duke Energy and other utilities, a step that industry analysts said is vital for the nascent industry and could incentivize more residents to invest in panels. Crucially, the act, which received bipartisan support, frames the effort as economic development more than climate action. “There wasn’t a robust discussion of ‘we need to reduce emissions.’ It was ‘we need to lower bills and encourage clean energy,’” says John Tynan, executive director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “We have to find a way to advance clean energy that’s characteristically South Carolina.”
SOUTH DAKOTA could build out more wind
South Dakota takes advantage of some of the windiest conditions in the US and now has sufficient turbines online to produce more than 1,218 megawatts of power—enough for 1.2 million homes. While elected officials have opposed the Green New Deal as government overreach that would hurt farmers and ranchers, native tribes have pushed forward. The Rosebud Sioux erected the first commercial turbine on tribal lands back in 2003. Now, six tribes are collaborating on the Oceti Sakowin Power Project, which will be the biggest renewables effort on tribal land. Leaders expect it will create at least 500 much-needed jobs during construction and 30 permanent ones for some of the poorest populations in the country. While these efforts were well underway before the GND resolution, climate justice advocates say they illustrate the importance of its call to use solutions like renewables development as a tool for lifting people out of poverty.
TENNESSEE could ditch nuclear
In a state that has embraced a controversial vision on climate (case in point: Senator Lamar Alexander’s “New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy” relies on nuclear power, which the GND’s framers oppose), Nashville is kicking up some GND dust. City Council member Freddie O’Connell wants to create the “Green New Deal of the East” and, last June, Music City’s leaders unanimously passed a measure that puts its government on a schedule to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2041. Nashville’s gasoline-powered vehicle fleet will switch to electric models by 2050, and the city will adopt new green building standards, including energy-efficiency retrofits, for at least 12.5 percent of its municipal offices by 2032.
TEXAS could protect against floods
Austin, a longtime progressive outlier in the conservative Lone Star State, is one of the few cities to outright endorse the Green New Deal. In May 2019, the city council also directed staff to explore what a climate-resilience plan for the flood-prone burg would look like. Like Houston, which endured record inundation from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the capital will need to focus on stormwater infrastructure upgrades to sweep away excess rainfall from roads and homes. The blueprint officials create could provide a model that other cities in conservative states can follow, according to Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter. The efforts run in stark contrast to a continued oil rush in the Permian Basin. Meanwhile, wind-power companies hurry to squeeze what’s left of federal tax incentives for renewables development.
UTAH could speed its renewable switch
In Utah, which ranks fifth among states with the fastest-rising temperatures and struggles with poor air quality, the legislature passed a bill in March 2019 that creates a new program to help municipalities reach 100 percent renewable power. Communities can opt to partner with the state’s largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, which will coordinate efforts for the switch and provide all the necessary supply and infrastructure updates. At least 12 municipalities have taken advantage of the opportunity, including Salt Lake City, Moab, Park City, and Summit County. In the process, Salt Lake will cut its carbon emissions in half, and will “create a replicable roadmap for others across the country,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement. Officials were responding in part to lobbying from young people in the Sunshine Movement, but the measure also gained the support of free-market advocates who see the expansion of renewables as key to the state’s economic development.
VERMONT could shake off nuclear
Famously progressive Vermont is a case study in the difficulty of achieving lofty climate goals. While the Green Mountain State pledged back in 2005 to cut emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2028 and 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the state’s emissions are now 16 percent higher than they were in 1990. That’s partly because it has proved difficult to entirely replace a shuttered nuclear plant, which provided about half the state’s electricity, with renewables. Despite a doubling of solar generation between 2016 and 2018, the state has struggled to build enough new facilities to fill the gap. Instead, they’ve wound up importing hydropower from Canada. But the biggest culprit are vehicles: Cars and trucks are responsible for some 40 percent of emissions. In the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers are mulling a bill, the Global Warming Solutions Act, that would establish mandatory emissions cuts across all sectors, including transportation, of 26 percent below 2005 levels in the next five years. In addition, the bill gives specific attention to the impact of climate change on the state’s rural communities.
VIRGINIA could fund efficiency upgrades
Arlington, a wealthy D.C. suburb, is leading the way on climate action. In 2017, the city became the first in the country to receive the LEED for Communities Platinum certification for its programs, which include providing rebates on power-sipping appliances and free expert advice for homeowners on efficiency upgrades like insulation or weatherstrips for windows. Local entrepreneurs have also set up a solar and electric vehicle charger co-op; members leverage their purchasing power and get discounts on installation of either solar panels, a level-2 EV charger, or both. Statewide, more than 50 groups, including the Sierra Club, the Richmond Food Justice Alliance, and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, are pushing toward key GND objectives: switching to 100 percent renewables, retraining displaced fossil-fuel workers, making efficiency upgrades to residential and commercial buildings, prioritizing clean and affordable transportation, and investing in local agriculture. A bill to turn much of that wish list into a reality quickly stalled in the last legislative session, but supporters continue to build momentum for the effort.
WASHINGTON could fund low-income home updates
The state legislature, at the urging of governor and former presidential candidate Jay Inslee, passed the most ambitious clean-energy bill in the country in 2019. The measure calls for Washington, which now gets 10 percent of its power from coal, to ditch fossil fuel by 2025, become carbon-neutral by 2030, and achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Low-income communities get “energy assistance,” meaning that utilities will have to help fund the weatherization of homes and other efficiency improvements, with a goal of aiding 60 percent of eligible customers by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050. The new law also requires that utilities ensure that low-income neighborhoods have the same access to new energy projects, such as wind facilities or electric-vehicle charging stations, as wealthier ones do.
WEST VIRGINIA could keep miners working
In West Virginia, where coal is still king, per capita carbon emissions are among the highest in the country, and state and federal lawmakers have resisted climate action at almost every turn. All the while, the repercussions of global warming are coming home to roost, in the form of a 5-to-10 percent increase in precipitation in some regions by the middle of the 21st century. So environmental and social-justice groups are taking a bottom-up approach to dealing with the coming crisis, working to help displaced coal workers retrain for other occupations, such as coding and renewables installation, and find jobs. (As of 2018, 12,253 West Virginians worked as coal miners, compared with 20,925 in 2009, according to yearly figures from the West Virginia Coal Association.) Solar Holler, for example, has been retraining displaced workers—some former miners, some miners’ sons and daughters—in solar installation since its founding in 2013.
WISCONSIN could train a green workforce
Under a new GND-like initiative in Milwaukee, supporters like County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde hope to see an influx of jobs in solar installation, efficiency upgrades, and other climate-change-fighting work. The swing could help many of the city’s black residents rise above the poverty line, where 30 percent of that community currently resides. The local task force in charge of the push promised to conjure a Green New Deal “with teeth” that will reduce emissions by 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030.
WYOMING could harness more wind
In the coal-rich Cowboy State, where Senator Mike Enzi recently called the Green New Deal a “pipe dream,” the only effort that has been palatable among elected officials is carbon capture of emissions from coal plants—an idea at direct odds with the GND’s call to put an end to fossil fuel use. Governor Mark Gordon has asked lawmakers to commit $10 million for a pilot project that would trap 75 percent of pollution from such facilities. And in March 2019, he signed a bill that further encourages keeping coal plants open by requiring owners to look for new buyers before closing such facilities. Still, the blustery plains have attracted renewable-energy developers—there’s already 1,410 megawatts of wind power up and running—but environmental groups say officials could do far more to harness the GND’s promise of a new energy economy. “It’s all talk and no action,” says Jeremy Nichols, climate-change campaign manager for WildEarth Guardians. Job training and other aid would ensure a soft landing for fossil-fuel workers, “but transition is still a dirty word in Wyoming,” he says.