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The Insider

Push For State, Local Action To Counter Federal Rollbacks Faces Hurdles

Environmental groups are focusing on state action including new laws, local regulations and efforts to drive adoption of green technology and see their effort as a counter to the continuing rollback of federal environmental rules, but the strategy still faces high hurdles.

Inside EPA’s Environment Next has full coverage of shifting burdens of environmental protection between the federal government, state and local authorities, and the private sector, as technological advances and federal rollbacks reshape the balance of power on policymaking.

Environment Next is a free service to our subscribers featuring wide-ranging looks at coming developments for environmental protection and policy, including interviews, in-depth reporting and profiles of key figures, companies and other groups that are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate change. The features offer a new way of reporting about the shift from command-and-control regulation to innovative, market-based measures and other efforts, including voluntary programs and government action outside EPA’s orbit.

This week, we looked at environmental groups’ work to spur passage of more-stringent laws on climate, plastic waste and other subjects in state legislatures across the country:

Environmentalists Shift Policy Focus To States Despite Several Hurdles
Several environmental groups are focusing their efforts to win strict new policies on Democratic-led state and local governments rather than trying to overcome the high barriers to enacting stringent federal rules, but the tactic faces its own hurdles ranging from GOP procedural blocks to debate about the scope of such measures.

In an interview with Environment Next, Colleen Smith, legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), said advocacy by IEC and other environmental groups is helping build momentum for an aggressive climate bill they hope to see pass this spring, and also legislation on lead in drinking water perflourinated chemicals and a host of other areas.

Yet despite environmentalists’ optimism in Illinois and elsewhere, the state-focused strategy faces hurdles of its own, even in legislatures dominated by Democrats who favor strict environmental policies. Those barriers include narrow legislative calendars in some states, and GOP opposition to stringent bills in others.

For instance, earlier this month Oregon Republicans blocked voting on a bill to establish a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions by leaving the state, depriving the Democratic-majority legislature of the quorum required to pass any legislation -- the second consecutive year they used the tactic to avoid passage of a climate bill.

Meanwhile, plans to tighten the model energy efficiency code used by many states and local governments are running into an administrative challenge, from building groups that say the International Code Council (ICC) vote to approve the changes was flawed:

Stricter Model Energy Code For Buildings Faces Administrative Challenge
A forthcoming stricter model energy code developed by the International Code Council (ICC) and seen by environmentalists and local government officials as a way to launch new efforts to limit buildings’ environmental impacts is facing an administrative challenge from home builders that supporters fear could derail their plans.

When ICC initially voted, the majority of its roughly 64,000 individual members supported a series of changes from the 2018 version of the code such as more support for electric vehicle charging, energy efficiency targets that can vary by region or climate conditions, and optional provisions to require net-zero energy use in new buildings.

But the council is now fielding calls from industry to revisit the December vote and potentially reverse some of the additions to the energy code, based on claims that some voters were not properly validated as members and that the vote itself was procedurally flawed.

For instance, the National Association of Home Builders says in a letter to ICC dated Feb. 14 that “[i]t appears that a combination of improperly validated voters, proposals not meeting the intent of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and a newly-uncovered flaw in the voting process resulted in voting irregularities and proposals being approved that will greatly reduce the functionality of the 2021 IECC and significantly impact affordability."

In the private sector, the Utah-based Intermountain Power Agency is vowing to switch one of its coal generating stations -- one of the largest such power plants in the United States -- over to hydrogen fuel by 2050, marking a first for the domestic utility industry:

Major Coal Plant Plans First U.S. Transition To 100 Percent Hydrogen Fuel
An electricity cooperative that owns one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the United States has signed a contract with a major global energy company to gradually transition from coal to a first-of-its-kind 100 percent renewable hydrogen fuel plant.

The announcement comes as the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, a major industry group representing advocates of a hydrogen fuel-powered economy, is planning to release a new “Road Map to a U.S. Hydrogen Economy” that will detail how the United States could rapidly expand the hydrogen energy sector as a key step toward cutting greenhouse gases and advancing clean energy goals.