Windmills in Minco, Okla., in 2012.
Sue Ogrocki/AP

Far from the political fray, states get greener

Updated

Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C. may be at loggerheads over carbon emissions, but things are different on the state level.

Even as their official representatives decry the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and call global warming a myth, some of the most conservative state governments in the nation are quietly experimenting with policies that reduce their carbon footprints, according to a new study from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

The report highlights states like Mississippi, which has substantially tightened up the rules for energy efficiency in commercial and state-owned buildings in recent years. In Texas – where the state attorney general recently threatened to sue to the EPA to block implementation of proposed carbon regulations – the city of Austin has experimented with a “Value of Solar Tariff” (VOST), meaning that the local energy utility credits residential consumers for any power they generate through solar energy.

And the list goes on.

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Hoover Institution research fellow Jeremy Carl, one of the co-authors of the report, said the report was intended to illustrate “the individual things that states are doing that often make both environmental and economic sense.” He suggested that red and blue states were more likely to implement environmentally sound policies when the federal government didn’t insist on a “one size fits all” approach.

“I think if you can present a lot of them with something they can see in their own backyard that really does make environmental and economic sense, and they don’t feel like it’s being shoved on them, then they’re likely to look on it with different eyes,” he said.

As previously reported by msnbc, the state of Oklahoma has also been quietly taking steps to reduce carbon emissions and generate more wind power. Predominantly Republican cities like Grand Haven, Mich. are reportedly examining ways of mitigating the effects of climate change, although they steer clear of referring to the phenomenon by that name.

At the same time, the White House’s climate strategy is based in large part on efforts to encourage state-level experimentation. The ambitious EPA carbon emission proposal, which the Obama administration released in June, is “all about flexibility,” according to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

The glue that holds this plan together, and the key to making it work, is that each state’s goal is tailored to its own circumstances, and states have the flexibility to reach their goal in whatever way works best for them,” she said during a June 2 speech outlining the proposal to reduce power plant emissions by 30% over the next decade and a half.

Yet Carl expressed skepticism toward the proposed rule and said the federal government should just “get out of the way.”

“You’re talking about a global issue to address and you’re trying to do a national policy that does have some flexibility in it,” he said. “But honestly, when you issue a multi-thousand page regulation, there’s all sorts of room for gaming and folks who have special deals to put themselves in a better position.”

The question is whether the states can reduce carbon emissions sufficiently without some kind of top-down compulsion. CO2 emissions in the United States have dropped somewhat in recent years according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but the decline coincides with the darkest years of the Great Recession. As energy prices have dropped over the past couple of years, emissions have ticked back up. Leading environmental groups, such as those backing the September 21 People’s Climate March in New York City, continue to press for a global response.

Climate Change and Global Warming

Far from the political fray, states get greener

Updated