Four years ago, some policymakers and environmentalists predicted that the United States would lock in major cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions from multi-state initiatives in the West, Midwest and Northeast. That hasn’t exactly happened: The recession and the election of some Republican governors have curbed some of the most ambitious efforts to address climate change.
But the push to expand renewable energy, which would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by producing electricity without burning fossil fuels, does continue on the state level. And California is pressing ahead — without the six states that initially planned to join it — with a trading system that will allow the state’s major carbon emitters to buy and sell pollution allowances.
“Clearly, the states remain the laboratories where we’re seeing significant progress,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
But the pace of experimentation has slowed, and it has shifted decisively toward renewable-
energy quotas rather than mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, which are linked to global warming.
Judi Greenwald, who tracks state actions on climate and energy as vice president for technology and innovation at the advocacy group C2ES, said the past four years have witnessed a shift in state policy.
“We still see all the states doing things on clean energy,” Greenwald said. “But definitely fewer states are calling what they do ‘climate.’ ”
Thirty-one states and the District have renewable portfolio standards, meaning they have established targets for how much of their electricity supply should come from renewable sources by a specific year. But moving those targets can be difficult.
Michigan’s standard calls for renewable energy to produce 10 percent of its electricity supply by 2015, but the push to boost this to 25 percent a decade later sparked an intense flight in the state, culminating in Tuesday’s vote.
Several groups — including the utility DTE, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Farm Bureau — have formed the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition to oppose the more ambitious standard, devoting more than $21 millionto the campaign.
Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, a spokesman for DTE, said Michigan is well on its way to reaching its current renewable target. But, given that renewable energy already accounts for 7 percent of the state’s electricity, achieving 25 percent in 13 years “is going to be a significant burden on our customers” and could cost utilities up to $12 billion.