The actions being taken by a number of states and cities to curb greenhouse gases and slow climate change are impressive, and we should all be grateful that the anti-science, anti-humanity policies of our federal government are being countered, at least to some extent, by state and local units of government.
The article began, however, with a coy promise: to reveal the “very simple” political trick that cities and states can employ to pass sound environmental policies. It even titled the article “This one weird trick can help any state or city pass clean energy policy.”
Federal climate politics in the US remains as gridlocked as ever, but the past few years have seen a remarkable flourishing of climate and clean energy policy at the subnational level, in states and cities across the country.
This has given rise to all sorts of deep analysis — about the potential and limitations of states as laboratories of democracy, about the role of cities in the 21st century, about the ability of subnational actors to offset federal inaction — but, oddly, the simplest lesson of all often goes unstated.
In point of fact, all these subnational jurisdictions, for all their differences, used the same simple trick to achieve policy success.
What is that trick? Well, it’d be no fun if I just told you!
Instead, let’s run through a quick review of recent subnational policy progress on climate and clean energy. Perhaps, by the end of this list, if you squint just right, you’ll see the trick for yourself.
The article then proceeded to identify a number of places doing the heavy lifting: Washington state, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, working for the first time with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, passed a suite of ambitious bills; Nevada, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, working with Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, committed the state to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050;
Colorado, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, together with Democratic majorities in that state’s legislature, has passed what the article called “an astonishing suite of climate and clean energy bills.”
The article also noted progress in New Mexico, New Jersey and California, and listed encouraging deliberations in New York, Massachusetts and Maine.
And it wasn’t just states. As the article reported, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s Democratic city council unveiled “LA’s Green New Deal.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Democratic council passed a sweeping set of climate bills, which would, among other things, target emissions from existing buildings. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Democratic city council passed a bill committing the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
The article detailed similar successes in Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
So what do all these jurisdictions have in common? What “trick” enabled these state governments to address the threat of climate change so aggressively?
The trick is: elect Democrats.
There are many differences among these jurisdictions in size, ambition, and policy details, but one thing they all have in common is that Democrats have the power to pass policy despite Republican opposition. It’s not that no Republicans voted for any of these measures — there were R votes here and there, so some could charitably be called “bipartisan” — but that Republicans were not in a position to block any of them.
Last year, Nevada had a Republican governor; he vetoed a clean energy mandate. This year it has a Democratic governor; he signed it.
That’s how it works, in practice. When Democrats take control, in numbers that preclude Republican veto power, they pass thoughtful, ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the clean energy transition. Where Republicans have the power to block such policies, they do. There are exceptions — all hail Illinois— but they are comparatively rare.
Perhaps climate and clean energy shouldn’t be partisan. But at the present moment, purely as a descriptive matter, they are partisan.
If you care about the environment, the simplest and most reliable way to support sane environmental policies is to vote Democratic.
Of course, that’s also the “trick” if you care about civil rights, the Constitution, the rule of law…