After Trump Balked at the Climate Accord, State Leaders Went Greener

After Trump Balked at the Climate Accord, State Leaders Went Greener


Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California had strong words for President Trump last Thursday after the GOP president announced he would pull the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate change accord.

Brown, arguably the nation’s leading governmental innovator in combating global warming, said, “Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts; He’s wrong on the science; [and] California will resist this misguided and insane course of action,” Brown declared. “Trump is AWOL, but California is on the field, ready for battle.”

Related: Trump Pulls Out of the Paris Climate Deal: How Much Damage Could It Do?

Trump’s decision dismayed U.S. allies and threatened to undermine the efforts of 195 signatory countries to substantially slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emission by 2025. But it also galvanized defiant state and local government leaders in many blue states throughout this country.

Rather than mourn the huge setback that Trump’s decision represents in the battle to save the planet from highly destructive changes in climate conditions, many U.S. state and local leaders are treating Trump as irrelevant to what they are trying to accomplish.

“We’ve been seeing strong momentum from states, cities, and companies for some time, and under any scenario, stronger momentum on those fronts will be critical,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Related: Why Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Agreement Could Be Bad for Coal

For years, while GOP and Democratic officials in Washington became mired in controversy over climate change related treaties, environmental regulations and cap-and-trade legislation, states like California, New York, and Washington State pushed ahead with regulatory solutions of their own.

California, for example, with the sixth largest economy in the world, blazed trails with some of the most stringent car and truck fuel economy and emission standards, a major push for a shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar and the first cap and trade program to encourage industries to reduce their emissions.

A bill pending in the General Assembly would force utilities to switch from fossil fuels to 60 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045, according to The Washington Post. The current standard in California and New York calls for the states to achieve 50 percent reliance on renewable fuels by 2030. 

Although California was not allowed to sign the Paris climate agreement because it lacked nation status, Brown was one of the leading forces behind the Under2 Coalition, a global forum of 170 states, regional and local governments on six continents committed to keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That target is precisely the goal of the Paris accord.

Related: Donald Trump and America’s Benighted Self-Interest on Climate Change

Brown was scheduled to spend a week participating in a global climate summit and meeting in China with high-level Chinese officials. The veteran 79-year old Democratic politician, who is now in his final term, told Politico, “I’m going to do everything I can, and people are going to join with me.”

Long before Trump announced his withdrawal from the global debate over climate change, roughly 30 states along with California adopted mandates calling upon utilities – among the biggest producers of heat-trapping carbon emissions – to gradually shift to cleaner renewable forms of energy.

On Thursday, Brown, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, all Democrats, said they were forming a coalition of states committed to meeting the targets of the Paris agreement, The Washington Post reported. Those three states alone constitute a fifth of the entire U.S. economy.

Cuomo at the same time unveiled a $1.5 billion plan of renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements. He told reporters he would provide an additional $150 million for installation of rooftop solar panels at schools and other public buildings. Cuomo said in a statement, “As the federal government abdicates its responsibility to address climate change,” New York was leading the nation in advancing “a clean energy future.”  

Related: As Trump Abdicates Global Leadership, Europe Moves to Fill the Vacuum

Finally, a group of 30 mayors, three governors, 80 universities and more than 100 businesses is developing a plan of its own to help meet the emissions levels targets of the Paris accord, according to The New York Times. The plan will eventually be submitted to the United Nations.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the newspaper that “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.”

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that as time goes by, state and local officials will show more and more independence from the climate-change policy making and debate in Washington.

“I think what states and what businesses can do is proceed on with their efforts as if his [Trump’s] pulling out didn’t mean anything,” Hoagland said in an interview. “It doesn’t mean anything to them. They can go ahead. It’s a voluntary agreement anyway. They’ll apply those voluntary actions at their individuals at their individual businesses and in their individual states.”

“In some ways, I don’t think Trump’s decision to pull out is as meaningful as he might think it is when the train has already left the station,” Hoagland added. “I think his decision is more of a signal of a weakening of United States leadership in the world, but those companies and those states aren’t going to stand by.”