Solar Tribune

What are the Best Policy Mechanisms to Combat Climate Change


Climate change policy has finally taken a place on the priority of the mainstream population and politicians and candidates looking to represent them. However, climate advocates can no longer support leaders who pass the bar of saying they support climate action, but rather we need to be debating and choosing the specific types of climate change policies that will work most effectively and most quickly to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.

To facilitate these discussions and educate our readers and decision-makers alike on the specifics of different climate change policy mechanisms, Solar Tribune has gathered a comprehensive (though not necessarily exhaustive) list of those policy levers. We’re collecting insights from thought leaders compare the pros and cons and identify the key considerations of these potential climate change policies. Check back to this page regularly as we continue to conduct interviews in order to add voices of new experts across industries and insights from leaders in this field.

Carbon Pricing

What is it: Policies enacting carbon price allow utilities, industries, and others to continue emitting greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, but it prices the externalities created and requires the emitter to pay for them. Because the damage from climate change would be economic and for everyone across the world, this method forces emitters to internalize those costs and often creates a business case for installing more efficient and clean equipment.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the New York Times, carbon pricing is enacted in a variety of places across the globe, including Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, and more, as well as in 10 states across the country.

In Favor of Carbon Pricing:

“Climate change poses great dangers to us all. Carbon pricing makes investments in low-carbon or carbon-free technologies attractive and ensures that fossil fuels are used efficiently.”– Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany


“Here has to be a price on carbon because there is a price on carbon: it’s the consequences to health and the economy and to our climate. We face an existential challenge with the changes in our climate. The time to act is now.”– Jerry Brown, former Governor of California


“Climate change is a member of a special kind of economic activity known as global public goods.” To solve this problem, “At a minimum, all countries should agree to penalize carbon and other GHG emissions by the agreed upon minimum price.”William Nordhaus, President of the American Economics Association


On carbon pricing, the pontiff said that humanity is called to use natural resources “wisely,” and their use can only be considered ethical when the economic and social costs of using them are transparently acknowledged and “are fully borne by those who incur them, rather than by other people or future generations.”Pope Francis


“A fee on carbon polluters is a fee imposed on fossil fuels, ultimately intended to eliminate the emission of carbon dioxide. Vote Climate U.S. PAC believes that a fee on carbon polluters is an essential piece of the Green New Deal or any comprehensive legislation to slow climate change. A carbon fee would compel energy producers to switch from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy or lose their competitive edge.” Karyn Strickler, Vote Climate U.S. PAC 


“From an economist’s perspective, carbon pricing (whether in a tax or cap-and-trade system) is still the most efficient way to control emissions. It does all the work for you, as long as you set the cap or price at roughly the appropriate level, conduct auctioning rather than allocating on emissions allowances, and emitters are more willing to pay the costs of emitting than to relocate to other jurisdictions.” – Alex Clark, Doctoral Researcher, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University


Against Carbon Pricing:

“Existing carbon-pricing schemes tend to squeeze only certain sectors of the economy, leaving others essentially free to pollute. And even in those sectors in which carbon pricing might have a significant effect, policymakers have lacked the spine to impose a high enough price. The result is that a policy prescription widely billed as a panacea is acting as a narcotic. It’s giving politicians and the public the warm feeling that they’re fighting climate change even as the problem continues to grow.”- Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford


Read more:

Pricing Carbon – World Bank Group

These Countries Have Prices on Carbon. Are They Working? New York Times

About Carbon Pricing – United Nations Framework Council on Climate Change


What is it: Cap-and-Trade is one specific type of carbon pricing mechanism, whereby the price of carbon is set based on market forces. Under a cap-and-trade system, the governing body dictates the level of emissions that are permitted and issue allowances equal to that amount and every carbon emitter would be required to hold those allowances equal to the amount they produce. Emitters that reduce their carbon output below their allowance can then auction their extra allowances to those who exceeded their limit on the open market.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, cap-and-trade is the form of carbon pricing being used in the European Union, Mexico, and a number of U.S. states.

In Favor of Cap-and-Trade:

“Putting a price on carbon emissions via cap and trade is among the best possible ways to get emissions down quickly and cheaply.”- Gernot Wager, economist with the Environmental Defense Fund


Against Cap-and-Trade: 

“The strategy of buying and selling carbon credits can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”- Pope Francis


When asked about cap and trade Warren Buffet said, “In the utility business, it’s going to be borne by customers. And it’s a tax like anything else.” He added that the “tax is probably going to be pretty regressive.”- Warren Buffet, American business magnate


“A full-blown fleecing of the middle class, it would raise electricity prices, increase gasoline prices, and ship American jobs to countries like China and India”- John Boehner, former Speaker of the House


Read more:

How cap and trade works – Environmental Defense Fund

Cap and Trade Basics – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxes – Union of Concerned Scientists

Carbon Taxes

What is it: Carbon taxes are the other type of carbon pricing, other than cap-and-trade, where the governing body sets the price on carbon emissions and collects that tax accordingly. Whereas cap-and-trade offers defined emission reductions with uncertain carbon prices, carbon taxes offer defined carbon prices with uncertain carbon reductions.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, carbon taxes are being used in certain parts of Canada, as well as in Boulder, Colorado.

In Favor of Carbon Taxes:

“The real right way to correct [the subsidy] would be to establish a carbon tax. If you ask any economist they will tell you that is the obvious thing to do, put the correct price on carbon because we currently have an error in the economy which misprices carbon at zero or something closer to zero. It is a fundamental economic error.”- Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Inc.


“A global carbon tax levied on a relatively small number of large sources can be monitored by satellite and checked against the annual surveillance of fiscal and economic polices already carried out by IMF staff. Thus, the accounting involved is much more precise and much less subject to the vagaries of corruption and conflict over which industries and companies get their free handouts of carbon credits — carbon pork — than in a cap-and-trade system.”- Ralph Nader, American political activist, attorney, and author


Against Carbon Taxes: 

“Energy is the lifeblood of any economy. A carbon tax would increase energy prices and thus cost jobs, making it difficult for U.S. companies to compete with foreign rivals and punishing the poor.”- H. Sterling Burnett, Senior Fellow on Energy and the Environment at the Heartland Institute


Read more:

Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxes – Union of Concerned Scientists

Carbon Tax Basics – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

The 5 Most Important Questions About Carbon Taxes, Answered – Vox


Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies

What is it: The current fossil fuel landscape sees the government providing the fossil fuel industry (including oil, gas, and coal) with various types and levels of government subsidies, which are financial incentives and rewards for fossil fuel production and generation. These subsidies can appear in a number of different ways, including loopholes in calculating payouts for coal mining on public lands, direct subsidies via fuel tax credit, indirect subsidies like the Last In, First Out Accounting method permitted to oil and gas companies, research grants into new fossil energy technologies, and more. Increasingly, one climate policy position has been to push for the removal of these fossil fuel subsidies, both the outright incentives and the hidden ones, as a way to force fossil fuel generation to compete on a more level playing ground with clean energy sources.

Is it enacted anywhere: The G7 nations (the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the European Union) set a deadline of 2025 for them to collectively eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, though obviously, each participating member of G7 has achieved a varying level of compliance towards that as-of-yet unreached deadline to date.

In Favor of Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies:

It is inconsistent, and ultimately counterproductive, to strive to meet urgent climate goals while at the same time increasing oil and gas production capacity, further extracting coal and developing additional coal-fired power generation. To level the playing field that currently undermines the prospects for renewable energy, subsidies to fossil fuels need to end, and both the public and private sectors must accelerate divestment from these harmful resources” – REN21


“We need to realign the incentives and tax breaks away from fossil fuels and towards energy conservation and renewable energy. We need to create new carefully targeted incentives for reducing carbon emissions. There’s no reason for draconian laws and tax hikes. There are new technologies already available, whether electric cars, cost-saving equipment for zero energy buildings, or electric grids powered by renewable energy and batteries. All the technology is available and ready to go. Only two things are needed: 1) to realign the incentives so people and companies do what’s right here– using off-the-shelf availabile technologies that will improve lives, save money, and improve the environment; and 2) some education and cheerleading to bring awareness of the many benefits of these energy-saving technologies.” – Joe Emerson, Zero Energy Project


Against Eliminating Fossil Fuel Subsidies:

Here we show that removing fossil fuel subsidies would have an unexpectedly small impact on global energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions and would not increase renewable energy use by 2030. Subsidy removal would reduce the carbon price necessary to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration at 550 parts per million by only 2–12 per cent under low oil prices. Removing subsidies in most regions would deliver smaller emission reductions than the Paris Agreement (2015) climate pledges and in some regions global subsidy removal may actually lead to an increase in emissions, owing to either coal replacing subsidized oil and natural gas or natural-gas use shifting from subsidizing, energy-exporting regions to non-subsidizing, importing regions” – Jessica Jewell, et. al, in Nature Journal


Read more:

Time for the US to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Natural Resource Defense Council

Fact Sheet: Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs: Environmental and Energy Study Institute

Fossil fuels are underpriced by a whopping $5.2 trillion: Vox


Renewable Portfolio Standards

What is it: Policies for Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPS, are mandates that utilities use a given amount of government-defined energy sources (e.g., some states may include nuclear energy as a carbon-neutral source or biomass as a renewable source, while others may narrowly define which energy sources count as renewable). Typically, RPS policies will be escalating over time and require utilities to generate an increasing percentage of its power from qualified resources. RPS standards can be considered a hammer in the clean energy policy toolbox, simply requiring the appropriate amount of renewable energy rather than incentivizing it, though it also ensures all energy providers covered by the RPS are uniformly expected to adapt.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 38 states and the District of Columbia have some form of RPS in place.

In Favor of Renewable Portfolio Standards:

“One of the tools that’s been most effective at all levels of policy is performance standards, such as appliance efficiency standards, building codes, and clean electricity or renewables portfolio standards. These tools can be particularly powerful when they set technology-neutral performance goals, which allow for flexibility in finding the most cost-effective ways to achieve targets without pre-judging the best technologies.” – Michael Mastrandrea, Director of Near Zero at Carnegie Institute for Science


“Since 2017, Nevadan voters have been repeatedly calling for a stronger RPS, and today the legislature delivered. Senate Bill 358 will bring thousands of jobs, reduce costs for consumers and keep our clean energy momentum going. We look forward to seeing Governor Sisolak sign this bill.”- Andy Maggi, executive director of Nevada Conservation League


Against Renewable Portfolio Standards:

“The estimates indicate that 7 years after passage of an RPS program, the required renewable share of generation is 1.8 percentage points higher and average retail electricity prices are 1.3 cents per kWh, or 11% higher; the comparable figures for 12 years after adoption are a 4.2 percentage point increase in renewables’ share and a price increase of 2.0 cents per kWh or 17%. These cost estimates significantly exceed the marginal operational costs of renewables and likely reflect costs that renewables impose on the generation system, including those associated with their intermittency, higher transmission costs, and any stranded asset costs assigned to ratepayers. The estimated reduction in carbon emissions is imprecise, but, together with the price results, indicates that the cost per metric ton of CO2 abated exceeds $115 in all specifications and ranges up to $530, making it least several times larger than conventional estimates of the social cost of carbon.”- Michael Greenstone, Ishan Nath, Economists at the University of Chicago


Read more:

State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals – National Conference of State Legislatures

Renewable Energy Standards – Solar Energy Industries Association

U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards: 2018 Annual Status Report – Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Feed-in Tariffs

What is it: Feed-in Tariffs represent a policy mechanism that provides economic certainty to providers of renewable energy and thus encourage the investment in such sources by provisioning a set price that these generators receive for their energy (typically based on costs to generate at the moment, meaning less mature technologies receive higher rates) while requiring utilities to purchase a given amount of the generation at this price for a set period. These tariffs thus encourage and support innovation around emerging energy sources and ensure business models for them are given time to flourish.

In Favor of Feed-in-Tariffs:

“A lot of the charm of the feed-in tariff is solid, take-it-to-the-bank security and confidence for the investing community. You get access to what is very difficult to get right now: financing.”- Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington and candidate for  2020 Democrat Presidential nomination


Against Feed-in-Tariffs:

“The honest truth is we earn our returns by building plants and putting them into rate base and making profits on them.” A feed-in tariff “does take away that opportunity of utilities to earn on their investments. … If you really, really want us to love this stuff, figure out a way we can make some money on it.”- Betsy Egelking, resource planning and bidding manager for Xcel Energ


Read more:

Feed-in tariff: A policy tool encouraging deployment of renewable electricity technologies – U.S. Energy Information Administration

Feed-in Tariffs: Good Practices and Design Considerations – National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Feed-in tariffs: a primer on feed-in tariffs for solar – Energy Sage

Renewable Tax Credits

What is it: Renewable energy tax credits can take the form of investment tax credits (ITCs), which provide tax credit to owners of renewable energy facilities based on the cost of facilities, and production tax credits (PTCs), which provide tax credit to owners of renewable energy facilities based on how much energy they generate. These financial incentives are offered to make it more appealing to investors to take a risk on renewable energy installations where they might have been more hesitant to pour money into technologies that had not yet matured.

Is it enacted anywhere: The United States originally enacted renewable energy tax credits in 1992, which have been renewed and expanded several times between then and the most recent version in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In Favor of Renewable Tax Credits:

“Wind and solar will need to be complemented by geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass energy. This can be incentivized by modifying the current tax credit structure that currently favors solar and wind power. Despite unequal access to tax incentives, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass are valuable because they provide baseload power and are located in geographically diverse areas.” – The Environmental and Energy Study Institute


“While the pendulum of energy subsidies may be swinging in favor of renewables in the last year or two, such momentum can be lost easily if lawmakers don’t extend various incentives and credits that have helped drive it.”- Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss, Scientific American


Against Renewable Tax Credits:

“The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers in the marketplace – but they try.

Renewable energy, driven by state and federal subsidies, is driving out baseload producers and jeopardizing the reliability of the electricity grid. According to ERCOT’s 2017 Capacity, Demand, and Reserves report, the expected 2018 peak reserve margin for the Texas electricity market has dropped to 9.3%, below the 13.75% target. Six months earlier, ERCOT had projected a reserve margin of 18.9%. This drop is primarily due to retiring generation sources, mostly coal-fired plants. Some would see this as a success, but favoring less reliable sources has an obvious downside—unreliability.”- Will Morgan, Texas Public Policy Foundation


“I believe that solar energy still needs some kind of compensation to account for its beneficial environmental impact compared with traditional energy sources based on fossil fuels. Although the tax credit has proven in the past to be a powerful instrument in helping to promote the various forms of renewable energy, I believe that moving forward a performance-based approach using tradable certificates like SRECs [solar renewable energy certificates] would further improve the acceptance of renewable energy and significantly boost its progress by better integrating the investment world.”- Frank Rieger, Sol-Up USA


Read more:

The Value of Energy Tax Incentives for Different Types of Energy Resources – Congressional Research Service

The Basics: Renewable Energy Tax Credits – US Bank

Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit – DSIRE

Competitive Energy Markets

What is it: While most utilities operate with a regulated monopoly over their customers, increasing amounts of states and countries have deregulated their energy markets to allow for competition among multiple energy providers. Such monopolies mean there’s less incentive for utilities to innovate and adapt to customers’ desires, but over a dozen states have passed legislation allowing competition in their energy markets which lets customers choose among multiple energy suppliers who will provide their generation (transmission and distribution is still covered by the local utility so as not to build out multiple grid systems). Because more customers these days want to know their home is being powered by renewable energy, implementing competitive energy markets is a policy mechanism to incentivize utilities to adapt to these new customer requirements.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to Electric Choice, 17 states plus Washington DC offer deregulated electricity markets.

In Favor of Competitive Energy Markets:

“In states that are highly regulated, such choice is not possible. Utilities might use some renewable resources to generate their electricity, but customers do not often have the same option to choose 100 percent renewables. Utility companies could offer this, but they don’t have competition to incentivize them to come up with such innovative programs or to reduce the prices of their renewable energy offers.

Laws and regulatory directives could be introduced that require them to take these steps, but these routes are often less efficient than letting the market work.”- Emily Folk, Renewable Energy Magazine


Against Competitive Energy Markets:

“The competitive market for energy is simply not working for residential customers. Consumers pay more for the same electricity, and even states with strong consumer protections have not ended overcharging and abusive marketing practices. In light of this history, states should consider whether competitive suppliers should be limited to the commercial and industrial markets and municipal aggregation.”- Jenifer Bosco, National Consumer Law Center


Read more:

Energy Deregulation Around the World: A Comprehensive Guide – Electric Choice

Energy Deregulation Opening Up Potential for Renewable Energy Future – Renewable Energy Magazine

Will Renewable Power Prosper in a Deregulated Industry? – Southwest Research and Information Center

Vehicle Performance Standards

What is it: Vehicle performance standards are requirements for the amount of carbon emissions allowed to be emitted by cars and trucks when they are driven, typically expressed in terms of miles per gallon, or MPG, (since a gallon of gasoline burned will emit a given amount of emissions, so greater ability to drive for the same fuel will reduce overall emissions). As hybrid and electric vehicles have become more evasive, governing bodies have added in a measure of miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) that accounts for the emissions required to generate the electricity that powers these vehicles.

Is it enacted anywhere: The United States has implemented vehicle performance standards since 1975, under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, with the goal of reducing reliance of foreign fossil fuels after the uncertainty from the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s. These standards have been updated many times, with some states also adapting more stringent vehicle performance standards prescribed by California.

In Favor of Vehicle Performance Standards:

“Under the standards, the country’s cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans are getting much cleaner. EPA’s online counter shows that new vehicles sold since model year 2012 have already avoided the emissions of more than 242 million tons of carbon pollution. The 2012-2025 standards are the biggest federal climate-protection program in place. If fully implemented, cleaner vehicles sold as a result of the standards will cut pollution that warms the planet by nearly 6 billion tons.

By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the standards slow the warming of our planet, and they protect our health by reducing the number of high-smog days that would come with a hotter world.”- Natural Resources Defense Council


Against Vehicle Performance Standards

“Economists have long been skeptical of fuel economy standards because they are an inefficient means of reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The majority of U.S. consumers demonstrably prefer larger, more powerful vehicles, such as pickups and SUVs. But vehicle manufacturers continue to produce large numbers of small vehicles, which have higher fuel economy, in order to comply with fuel economy standards. As a result, manufacturers and dealers are forced to discount the prices of new cars, undermining their overall profitability.”- Julian Morris, senior fellow at Reason Foundation and executive director of the International Center for Law and Economics


Read more:

Federal Vehicle Standards – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

The Effect of Standards for New Vehicle Fuel Economy and GHG Emissions on U.S. Consumers – Resources Magazine

Federal Clean Car Standards – Environmental Defense Fund

Vehicle Fuel Fees

What is it: Because the most harmful part of transportation to the climate is the emissions associated with burning fuel, taxes on gasoline are a common tool to make driving more expensive and thus incentivize people to find alternative forms of transportation and drive personal vehicles less. While gasoline taxes have been implemented as revenue-raising measures for transportation infrastructure longer than they’ve been considered a climate policy, they are an increasingly useful way to encourage transportation emission reductions.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Tax Foundation, every state in the nation has a gasoline tax, ranging from as low as 15 cents per gallon in Alaska to 59 cents per gallon in Pennsylvania.

In Favor of Vehicle Fuel Fees:

“A gas tax could be one important element of an integrated energy policy.”- Alan Mullally, former CEO of Ford


Against Vehicle Fuel Fees:

“Tax hikes have a negative impact on economic growth. As discussed, higher gas taxes mean higher gas prices which reduce the discretionary income of millions of Americans.  Reductions in discretionary income often correspond with diminished economic growth. In fact, analysts at Goldman Sachs predict “lower gas prices could add as much as half a percentage point to GDP growth this year.””- Emma Boone, Americans for Tax Reform


Read more:

Fuel Taxes: An Important Instrument for Climate Policy – University of Gothenburg

Aborted Fuel Tax Initiative in France: Its Ramifications for Green Growth – Inter Press Service

Vehicle Climate Fee – City of Boulder Colorado


Electric Vehicle Policies

What is it: Electric vehicle policies can encompass a variety of different strategies, from incentives for purchasing new electric cars to supporting the installation of charging infrastructure to converting municipal fleets to be powered by electricity and much more, but the goal is the same: transforming the base of vehicles on U.S. roads to be powered by electricity (already less carbon-intensive than internal combustion engines and getting better as the grid decarbonizes) rather than gasoline.

Is it enacted anywhere: The U.S. government included provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles, while at least 47 different states, according to the Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Technology Collaboration Programme, offer regulations promoting electric cars.

In Favor of Electric Vehicle Policies:

“By far, the rubric assigns the highest weight to vehicle purchase incentives, which could include grants, rebates or tax credits, along with exemptions from sales tax, registration and licensing fees.”- National Association of State Energy Officials


Against Electric Vehicle Policies:

“To justify these staggering costs, advocates of the credit claim that electric cars as “critical to lowering our emissions and limiting climate change.” But the numbers tell a different story. Research by the Manhattan Institute found that EVs will reduce energy-related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by less than 1% by 2050. “That reduction will have no measurable impact on world climate—and thus the economic value of CO2 emissions reductions associated with [electric vehicles] is effectively zero,” according to the study, which also found that the spread of EVs would actually increase other harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.”- Steve Pociask, President of the American Consumer Institute


Read more:

Comparing U.S. and Chinese Electric Vehicle Policies – Environmental and Energy Study Institute

Model State & Local Policies to Accelerate Electric Vehicle Adoption – Sierra Club and Plug In America

Electric Vehicle State Policy Resources – Georgetown Climate Center

Urban Mobility Policies

What is it: Urban mobility is the collection of how people move around a given city in efficient and effective manners, including driving, public transit, walking, and biking. Locally, a focus on climate-friendly urban mobility policy will shift the number of trips taken via carbon emitting measures like personal vehicles towards less carbon intensive (public transit) or carbon neutral (walking and biking) means. Examples of climate-focused urban mobility policies includes funding for public transportation systems, installation of bike lanes, and a focus on minimizing sprawl while maximizing affordable housing close to a city center.

Is it enacted anywhere: Any city or region has its own form of urban mobility policy, with varying degrees of a climate focus turned to it. Examples of clean urban mobility policy include the European Union’s aim to free cities of conventionally fueled cars by 2050, extensive networks of bicycle lanes installed in Oslo, and congestion charges in Stockholm.

In Favor of Urban Mobility Policies:

“As the developing world rapidly urbanizes, the demands on transport systems also grow often at a faster pace than the population. Given the above tendency, an effective and coordinated approach to urban transport requires that sound policies be put into place. Such policies enunciate the direction that a government wants to take; they lay the basic framework for downstream planning as well as project identification and prioritization.”- World Bank Group


Against Urban Mobility Policies:

Here’s what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker told the paper’s editorial writers Tuesday about why he opposed transit improvements in the county he purportedly leads:

 “…Walker said he would like to grow the local economy enough so lower-income people don’t have to rely on transit and could instead afford to buy cars if they chose.”- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker


Read more:

Formulating an Urban Transport Policy: Choosing between Options – World Bank

European Urban Mobility – Policy Context – European Union

Urban mobility at a tipping point – McKinsey & Company

Building Energy Codes

What is it: Just like buildings must be to code when it comes to fire preparedness and electrical safety, many jurisdictions have codes for the energy systems installed in residential and commercial buildings. Building energy codes typically cover how airtight the building envelope (i.e., walls, floors, and ceiling) is to ensure efficient use of heating and cooling, lighting installations, and required levels of insulation. The goal is to prevent unnecessarily wasted energy in the stock buildings due to cutting corners, and because once constructed buildings will be operating for at least decades, building energy codes are among the energy policies with the longest time of impact.

Is it enacted anywhere: While there is no singular U.S. building energy code, most states have adopted building energy codes of some level, according to the Building Codes Assistance Project.

In Favor of Building Energy Codes:

“Shifting the materials we build our spaces and our urban environments with is something we can do today becaues these superior and beneficial materials for rooftops and walls across the globe already exist. Using optimal roofing materials and strategies will have a substantial energy efficiency impact by keeping our buildings cooler and reducing the need for air conditioning, it improves thermal comfort, and it promotes global cooling in a way that not only reduces the amount of greenhouse gases you’d otherwise emit but it also cancels some of the warming effect of the greenhouse gases you’ve already emitted.” – Kurt Schickman, Executive Director of Global Cool Cities Alliance


“Building energy codes that reduce wasted energy, optimize material usage, and ensure safe structures are essential. National codes should set minimum standards that local governments must enact. As a society, we should be working together to conserve resources and ensure the safety of our homes both for our own families and for future owners.” – Don Vandervort, Founder of


“Strong building energy codes are one of the most effective, and cost-effective, mechanisms to increase the long-term energy efficiency of buildings”- Institute for Market Transformation


Against Building Energy Codes:

“When construction teams “build to code,” what does that really mean? Unfortunately, it often means complying with the bare minimum of legal requirements. No reputable builder will defy codes intentionally, but if builders’ only goal is to make sure a property isn’t illegal, they may not have incentive to go above and beyond with quality or safety.”- Carla Williams of Williams Brothers Corporation of America


Read more:

Building Energy Codes: Policy Overview and Good Practices – National Renewable Energy Laboratories

Building Energy Codes Program – U.S. Department of Energy

Global Approaches: A Comparison of Building Energy Codes in 15 Countries – American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Appliance Energy Standards

What is it: While building energy codes cover the structure of a building, appliance energy codes instead cover the energy efficiency of products that typically go within buildings. Between federally mandated minimum efficiencies and voluntary stretch goals for the most energy efficient products (such as ENERGY STAR), this type of policy analyzes how much energy common products (e.g., light bulbs, washing machines, ceiling fans) use and push the manufacturers to match the most efficient ones on the market.

Is it enacted anywhere: The United States, through the Appliance and Equipment Standards Program, covers the efficiency of residential and commercial appliances in accordance with a 1975 act of Congress.

In Favor of Appliance Energy Standards:

“Efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings set in the first and second terms combined will reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030, equivalent to nearly one-half of the carbon pollution from the entire U.S. energy sector for one year—while continuing to cut families’ energy bills.”- Former President Barack Obama


“We find no evidence to suggest that more stringent energy efficiency standards hurt consumers by increasing price or lowering quality. Rather, we find evidence that price declines and quality improvements accelerate with stricter standards, which unambiguously improves consumer welfare, excluding external pollution-related benefits”- Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment


Against Appliance Energy Standards:

“The goal is to reduce energy bills, but even DOE admits that for some consumers, these standards raise the up-front price of appliances more than what will be earned back in the form of energy savings. This was particularly true of air conditioner standards but also refrigerators and several others. Low-income and senior households are most likely to experience net costs, according to the agency.”- Ben Lieberman, senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former counsel for House Energy and Commerce Committee


Read more:

Appliance and Equipment Standards Program – U.S. Department of Energy

Fact Sheet: Energy Efficiency Standards for Appliances, Lighting and Equipment – Environmental and Energy Study Institute

National Standards – Appliance Standards Awareness Project


Energy Storage Support

What is it: As intermittent renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind, become more concentrated on the grid, it becomes imperative that energy storage capacity is built out to allow for power generated during time of peak generation (e.g., mid-afternoon when solar panels are receiving the most sunlight) to be use during times of peak demand (i.e., in the early evening hours when the sun isn’t shining but families are using energy-intensive devices). Public support for energy storage, such as R&D funding, tax incentives, and energy storage prescriptions for utilities, can push the use of energy storage to be more of a pervasive clean energy solution.

Is it enacted anywhere: The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the U.S. government, specifically through the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, is funding advancement of electricity storage R&D.

In Favor of Energy Storage Support:

“A joint demonstration program between DOD and DOE will also be able to utilize existing test-bed infrastructure and provide key field data at both agencies that will help accelerate commercial deployment of long-duration energy storage technologies to increase energy resilience and security”- Senator Angus King of Maine


Against Energy Storage Support:

“Many implausible technological changes would have to happen before batteries will be capable of doing what clean-energy visionaries hope.”- Ross Marchand, policy director at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance


Read more:

U.S. Grid Energy Storage Factsheets – University of Michigan

Managing the Future of Energy Storage – Institute for Policy Integrity

Energy Storage for the Grid: Policy Options for Sustaining Innovation – MIT Energy Initiative


Net Metering

What is it: Net metering, often a lightning rod for debate in the energy communities, is defined as a billing arrangement that compensates on-site producers of energy (such as customers with rooftop solar systems) for any excess generation that they do not use and instead export to the utility grid, though the level and format of the compensation varies by location.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 17 states have authorized the use of net metering.

In Favor of Net Metering:

“Customers with rooftop solar systems are not only paying their fair share, they’re actually helping to reduce costs for their neighbors as well. Specifically, the benefits of solar DG exceed the retail cost of electricity and the value of solar is greater than the compensation solar DG customers receive under net metering programs.”- Commissioner of Michigan Dan Scripps


Against Net Metering:

“The private solar lobbyists in Lansing are pushing for a system that allows private homeowners to put a Cadillac-style energy system on their rooftops and pass the bill for maintaining the roads on to the rest of us.”- Bishop W.L. Starghill Jr, Michigan Democratic Black Caucus


Read more:

State Net Metering Policies – National Conference of State Legislatures

Net Metering – Solar Energy Industries Association

Net Metering: State, Local, & Tribal Governments – National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Industrial Energy Efficiency Measures

What is it: The industrial sector, which encompasses business including (but not limited to) manufacturing, refining, and mining, is an incredibly significant source of energy use globally. The public policy levels that can be used to encourage or mandate efficiency across industry are varied, and include requirements to purchase more efficient equipment, encouraging best practices, and incentivizing retrofits and behaviors that reduce energy use.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, federal industrial efficiency measures include incentives, technical assistance, and R&D, while some states offer these measures and further some local jurisdictions also provide incentives to industrial efficiency improvements.

In Favor of Industrial Energy Efficiency Measures:

“The industrial sector represents a big opportunity for low-cost energy savings from utility energy efficiency programs. In general, investments in energy efficiency lower operating costs for manufacturers, which increases their productivity and improves competitiveness. When these investments are made through utility programs, businesses get the added value of access to technical expertise, project implementation support, and financial incentives that reduce initial costs.”- Meegan Kelly, Senior Research Analyst at the    American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy


“Governments play a vital role in driving industry to adopt energy-saving and low-carbon practices. Most countries now have some kind of energy efficiency policy in place, and efforts are also ramping up in many developing countries that have large, energy-intensive industry sectors”- Jigar Shah, President of Generate Capital Inc.


“It’s not the sexiest of topics, but proper maintenance of the cooling coils in cooling and refrigeration equipment—which means coil cleaning, filter replacement– is associated with a 17-20% energy savings, and currently 500 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent are emitted each year globally in indirect emissions from poor cleaning and servicing of HVAC and refrigeration equipment. Policymakers need to know about this, and governments need to require coil cleaning of refrigeration units if they’re running in either food service or healthcare. In these industries, if you run a unit with clogged coils then the food and medicine contained therein might not be held at the right temperature, which is a health concern. These requirements would be analogous to auto emissions and safety maintenance and inspections that are required, so policymakers can the same approach to improve safety and reduce industrial emissions.” – Richard P. Fennelly, COO of CoilPod LLC


Against Industrial Energy Efficiency Measures:

“Producers have a much better ability to meet consumers’ demands than any government mandate or subsidy program. Congress should recognize how markets have improved energy efficiency in the U.S. It should:

 Prevent new efficiency standards for any new appliances and federal funding for efficiency improvements in manufacturing processes and residential, industrial, and commercial buildings.”- Nicholas Loris, Deputy Director of Thomas A. Roe Institute


Read more:

Industrial Energy Efficiency Programs – American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Making the Case for Inclusive Industrial Energy Efficiency Policy – Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

Energy Efficiency: Industry – International Energy Agency

Industrial Emission Restrictions

What is it: In addition to tackling climate change through improving industrial sector efficiency, policy measures can also directly mandate restricted carbon emissions from industrial players.  Such measures can be necessary in tandem with efficiency because they will help to restrict indirect emissions, such as those from the oil and gas production industries, which is accomplished through industry-specific measures (such as covering emissions from oil and gas wells or pollutants emitted by cement kilns) or measures covering all subsectors, such as performance standards for greenhouse gases generally.

Is it enacted anywhere: The United States has covered emissions in the industrial sector through the Clean Air Act, though the current administration has indicated an intent to review and possibly rescind such regulations, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

In Favor of Industrial Emissions Restrictions:

“Policymakers working on climate change at the federal and state level have so far largely shied away from regulating heavy industry, which directly contributes about one-sixth of the country’s carbon emissions. Instead, they’ve focused on decarbonizing the electricity sector through actions like promoting wind and solar power.

But even as power generation has gotten cleaner, those overlooked industrial plants and factories have become a larger source of climate pollution.”- Brad Plumer, energy and climate reporter for the New York Times


Against Industrial Emissions Restrictions:

“This study highlights the fact that regulatory measures are an inefficient way to achieve climate goals. While all examined scenarios resulted in significant job and economic impacts, scenarios that allow more flexibility achieve the same or greater emission reductions at a lower economic cost. The analysis also shows that in the next 10 years, regulating the industrial sector to achieve NDC goals would be responsible for most of the overall impact on the economy. Additionally, the study illustrates that electric sector reductions are relatively less expensive than reductions from the industrial sector, which generally is comprised of far smaller emissions sources. It would be much less costly to allow other sectors to purchase credits from the electric sector for emission reductions than to meet NDC targets on their own. The study also illustrates the challenges associated with emissions leakage. Regardless of which regulatory scenario is pursued, substantial leakage is likely to undermine environmental goals unless other countries impose similarly stringent emissions restrictions.”- American Council for Capital Formation


Read more:

Controlling Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Industry: Tracking Clean Energy Progress – International Energy Agency

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Industrial Sector: Policies, Programs and Opportunities for Energy-Efficiency – American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Carbon Capture and Storage

What is it: The goal of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is to harness the emissions that are emitted at the source (such as when coal is burned or oil is refined but before those emissions are able to leave the plant) and is then stored permanently in underground geological rock formations, typically. Policies to encourage the innovation and use of CCS mainly includes financial incentives through loan guarantees, tax credits, and other similar measures.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Brookings Institute, CCS has been incentivized by the U.S. federal government in both the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008.

In Favor of Carbon Capture and Storage:

“If coal is to be used, the only response- because it is the dirtiest of all fuels- is that we have to learn how to do carbon capture and storage and we have to learn how to do it quickly on a commercial scale.”- Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank


Against Carbon Capture and Storage:

“The beguiling appeal of relying on future negative emission technologies is that they delay the need for stringent and politically challenging policies today – they pass the buck for reducing carbon on to future generations. But if these Dr Strangelove technologies fail to deliver at the planetary scale envisaged, our own children will be forced to endure the consequences of rapidly rising temperatures and a highly unstable climate.”- Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research


Read more:

Development of a Policy Framework for CO2 Carbon Capture and Storage in the States – Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Policies to commercialize carbon capture and storage in the United States – Brookings Institute

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the United States – Congressional Research Service

R&D Support

What is it: Generally speaking, one of the most important policy mechanisms the government is able to support is financially through research and development (R&D). R&D support can include funding development of clean energy technology, new and innovative business cases, and moon-shot attempts to provide leaps in the energy industry.

Is it enacted anywhere: The U.S. federal government has long supported R&D in the energy industry, going back to the early days of the U.S. Department of Energy (then the Atomic Energy Commission) and through to today via ARPA-E, the network of National Laboratories, and across individual offices of DOE.

In Favor of R&D Support:

“This is undoubtedly a tough problem. It is not obvious what the big breakthroughs will look like. Most likely we will need several solutions to each challenge. That is why we need to invest in lots of research and development, across all five areas, now”- Bill Gates, Iconic businessman, philanthropist, and climate change advocate


“In rural western Alaska, we do not have an interconnected electrical grid, so microgrids are the way to go. Each town has its own generators so we burn a lot of diesel to make electricity and it’d be nice to get off the petroleum market. The funding for tax kickbacks and support for research and implementation of microgrids and renewables is currently being slashed by the State. There are a lot of great ideas out here because we’re paying way more for electricity, but the Governor is pulling back the funds so we’re struggling to get it done.” – Todd Radenbaugh, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

“Hydrogen is a central pillar of the energy transformation needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. The ambitious yet realistic approach of harnessing hydrogen energy would enable a deep decarbonisation of transport, industry and buildings, as well as a renewable energy production and distribution system. To achieve this vision, investors, industry and government will need to intensify and coordinate their efforts.” – Guy Delbaen, Professor at Université libre de Bruxelles

Against R&D Support:

Ryan’s website calls for “getting Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy,” including the energy sector.- Paul Ryan, Former Speaker of the House, 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President


Read more:

Impact of Clean Energy R&D on the U.S. Power Sector – National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Electric Systems R&D – Congressional Research Service

Renewable Energy Technology Innovation Policy – International Renewable Energy Agency


Land Use Policies

What is it: While most of the man-made emissions come from the production of energy, the industrial manufacture of goods, and from transportation vehicles, the way the Earth’s land is used has a significant impact on total global emissions. In particular, how the use of the planet’s land is changing is a huge driver of the state of global emissions. Massive deforestation in tropical areas removes a natural source of carbon sequestration, drilling for fossil fuels on public lands brings new hydrocarbons into the world’s inventories to be burned, and improper management of land can lead to ecosystem degradation and undue release of greenhouse gases and loss of carbon sequestering greenery. As such, land use policies can be deliberately used to protect and bolster these natural defense’s of the planet against the build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to this article in Science Findings, Oregon has protected 1.2 million acres of forest and agricultural land since 1973 and thus maximized carbon storage. On a larger scale, Brazil has enacted policies to try and protect its massive tropical forests with the goal of reducing the emissions that had risen from deforestation.

In Favor of Land Use Policies:

“Public lands not only enhance carbon sequestration, but their protection often removes them as a fossil fuel development opportunity. As an example, on the Arctic Refuge, not only do we oppose the drilling of this land because of the human rights issues and conservation issues, but also because the indirect emissions that would come from such drilling would be equivalent to about a million new cars on the road. Protecting public lands is protecting the climate.”- Lindsay Bouroine, Director of Policy & Advocacy at Protect Our Winters


Against Land Use Policies:

“Developing our resources on the coastal plain is an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance.” – Joe Balash, Assistant Secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior


Read more:

Introduction to Land Use: United Nations Climate Change

Climate-Friendly Land Use: Union of Concerned Scientists

Planning and Land Use: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit


Focusing on a Just Transition

What is it: Certain experts look at the market forces at play and find that federal energy policy is no longer necessary to push a clean energy transition away from coal and fossil fuels towards a clean energy future, as the work of previously mentioned policies like feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, and R&D resources has given these technologies the push they need. While localized policies might be necessary by state or local governments to encourage regional adoption of the technologies, the thinking here is that the federal government should instead shift its focus to the bigger picture of what the wider impacts are as the inevitable energy transition takes hold: how will those whose jobs are made unnecessary be retrained and/or propped up, how will we make sure all classes and groups are able to reap the benefits of clean energy, and how will we ensure unintended consequences don’t take hold? These ideas support a focus on a just and equitable transition.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, some examples of policies in this regard include Canada’s Coal Workforce Transition Fund and Scotland’s Oil Worker Transition Fund.

In Favor of Focusing on a Just Transition:

“Green New Deal type policies that focus on employment and on fair and reliable access to power and transportation will be central to ensuring that the social benefits of a rapid transition to clean energy are widely spread, and that the transition is not cut short due to policy opposition” – Eban Goodstein & L. Hunter Lovins, MBA in Sustainability at Bard College


Against Focusing on a Just Transition:

“What many experts call false hopes for a coal resurgence have mired economic development efforts here in a catch-22: Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.” – Valerie Volvcovici, Reuters


Read more:

The Ecosystem of Networks Advancing a Just Energy Transition- Climate Justice Alliance

Realizing a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels – Stockholm Environment Institute

A global energy transition is happening; let’s make it just, fair and equitable – World Wildlife Fund


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