Institute for Policy Integrity's Livermore discusses emerging state strategy

With no hope for a national comprehensive climate package in the near term, the focus is shifting to the states and their existing emissions policies. Can the states create the United States' climate policy? During today's OnPoint, Michael Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, discusses the emerging policy strategy in the states and explains how U.S. EPA's pending regulation of emissions will affect existing state greenhouse gas programs.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Michael Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University Law. Michael, great to have you back on the show.

Michael Livermore: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: With no realistic chance for federal climate legislation in the short term, there are other options out there, one of those being with the states and their own either statewide or regionwide emissions reduction plan. So what's the strategy that we see emerging out there among the states?

Michael Livermore: Well, if there is a strategy, it's really diversity, lots of different approaches, states are trying different things. So Vermont, for example, has integrated a system into its regulatory review process where agencies are supposed to look at the greenhouse gas impacts of their regulations. So that's one example. Obviously, you have the regional initiatives that are happening in the Northeast and the West, and that's more following like a cap-and-trade kind of model, similar to the federal legislation. And now, obviously, EPA is going to be unrolling its national kind of power plant standards. But that's obviously going to have a very strong state component. And as states start to respond to that federal initiative, there's going to be, and EPA wants to promote, some diversity of approaches: states looking at different options and really tailoring their methods to the particular needs of their states and the power generators and so on.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the interplay, though, for a state that needs to work with EPA's rules, but also has its own set of rules for emissions reduction? How does that -- how is that going to work?

Michael Livermore: It's going to be tricky. I think that's part of the issue, especially given that at the federal level, all we can seem to move on is kind of command-and-control-style, old line, Clean Air Act type of regulations, whereas the states are trying to use more of the kind of market mechanisms, innovative-type regulatory approaches. And so that can be quite tricky. Ultimately, I think it's going to work, because the federal government has taken a very flexible approach, and so, say, a state like New York, which has a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is basically like a cap-and-trade system, they will also have to implement the federal program. And what will happen is that the state government, under the federal program, will kind of require efficiency standards, that power plants meet some basic efficiency requirements that either they would have met anyway under RGGI, likely, or it will just kind of render the RGGI program -- it kind of shift emissions to other sectors. So power plants will emit a little bit less, and then the RGGI cap will kind of go somewhere else. So it might -- it will have kind of very small consequences for states that have aggressive programs. And then, for states that aren't doing anything, obviously, this will be the only game in town.

Monica Trauzzi: So if a large enough percentage of states have their own policy for reducing emissions, will that have an impact on global emissions and the U.S.'s role in the climate discussion?

Michael Livermore: Yeah, I mean, the states are, at some level, where all the action is, right? Every emission comes from some state somewhere. So if every state had emission reduction strategy, that would obviously be the whole U.S. And, actually, you don't need to get that many states involved in the game to really see significant action, just like at the global level, you don't need every country to be part of a climate change treaty. What you need is the 10, 20 major emitters. And once you have those major emitters on board, that's basically -- that's the solution. You don't need to get everybody involved. And the same principle basically holds true within the U.S., as well. There are 10, 15 states that are going to account for the lion's share of emissions, and if those states are leaders and take a really aggressive role, that will make a huge difference.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you expect to see a shift in lobbying efforts from the national level to the state level? I mean, are we going to see the money going to the states?

Michael Livermore: Well, the money is going to flow to where the action is, there's no doubt about it. And if things are just locked up in Congress, then the status quo industry folks are going to spend just enough money in Congress to make sure that the status quo is maintained, and then absolutely, I mean, I think we saw this in the fight in California. That money is going to flow to the states. Now, the question is, are states going to be in a better position, worse position, or kind of equal position to kind of combat the influence of special-interest money? Now, one thing that's interesting is that it's probably, there's going to just be some variance. Some states, the special-interest money is just going to swamp out the process, and that will be that. But then, in other states, they actually might do better than the federal government at kind of fighting the influence of special-interest money, either, because they just have -- it's a cultural thing within the state, or more decisions are made through kind of independent bodies or regulatory bodies. So some states actually might be in a better position than Congress to fight the influence of special-interest dollars.

Monica Trauzzi: There was a big shift to the Republican side among governors in the last election. Do you think that's going to have any impact on what we see coming out of the states on climate?

Michael Livermore: Yeah, this is going to be a very decisive moment, I think, for the Republican Party at some level. Climate and environmental issues, it just doesn't -- it continues to mystify me why this is a partisan issue. It's just not clear and didn't used to be the case that environmental protection was a partisan issue. Republican presidents have signed the biggest pieces of environmental legislation in the history of the U.S., and why, in the last 15, 20 years that the issues of science and climate have become so politicized, is really -- I mean, it's a major question that's been a major problem. And so there's a choice at the state level, whether some of these new governors are going to kind of maintain the line of being kind of anti-science or questioning climate science and not moving forward with an aggressive stance towards greenhouse gas regulations or whether they're going to be smart, innovative, look at economically efficient tools to rein in these emissions, be leaders. I think that's a real choice. I don't know that we have an answer to that, if I was betting kind of oriented, I think there would be a mix. I think that some of them are going to go in a bad direction, and hopefully, there will be some leaders that will go the right way.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show again.

Michael Livermore: Great, my pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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