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States Could Take Lead On Environmental Regulation Under Trump

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More now on federalism and the environment. States and cities have long taken the lead in pushing for clean energy and climate initiatives, and for a sense of what we might see from the states during a Trump administration, we're joined now by Dallas Burtraw. He's a senior fellow with the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future. Welcome to the program.

DALLAS BURTRAW: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And perhaps you can help us understand the landscape of state regulations and policies, where they're strongest and where they're weakest.

BURTRAW: There are state policies that are strong throughout the nation, but especially in the northeast states, in California and a number of other states, we see leadership on climate and energy policies. There's 10 states nationally that have cap and trade programs in place.

A number of other states have climate policy goals already articulated. And they take the shape mostly in the form of clean energy policies with over half the states in the country having funded energy efficiency standards.

SIEGEL: But if the federal government were not to have an activist EPA, would you expect the states to continue behaving as they've been behaving?

BURTRAW: I would expect to see these states really double down on their commitment to climate and energy policies partly because it's been so important for their economic development and job creation in those states. And even in the states that don't have in place these climate and energy policies that we refer to, we're seeing the breakout of market forces that are leading to the development of clean energy and industry that is very prominent even in so-called red states.

SIEGEL: You're saying in many states, there is strong an economic interest in sustainable energy development as in traditional fossil fuels.

BURTRAW: Well, that's right. We're seeing that across the solar and renewable industry, for example, there are more than twice as many jobs as there is in the coal electricity generation pathway.

SIEGEL: And is it fair to say that those jobs would exist even if the federal government were not subsidizing them in any way?

BURTRAW: Well, the federal subsidies have enabled those industries to develop and emerge now, but it's now the case that their costs have fallen that they're really competitive with coal and even natural gas.

SIEGEL: Now, California has its own auto emissions standards that are more rigorous than federal standards. Could the federal government say to California, you no longer have the authority to do that?

BURTRAW: Well, the way it works is California has a unique situation in that it can develop auto standards that exceed the federal standards. And then other states are given a choice about whether to jump onboard with California or to adhere to the federal standards.

And time after time over the last four decades, California has taken the lead and sought a waiver to enact its standards, and the federal standards are then ultimately caught up with California. And that's where we are just now with standards going through 2025.

SIEGEL: But what about California's waiver? Is that secure until 2025?

BURTRAW: Well, that's an uncertain question - whether Pruitt would go after to try to revoke the waiver for California. But every waiver request previously has always been accepted, and for him to go in and try to revoke a waiver that's already been granted - a lot of chicken feathers would hit the fan if that were to happen.

SIEGEL: From the sound of it, from the way you see it, it sounds like no matter what federal policy is at EPA, it's unlikely to have much effect on the environment. Is that being too rosy?

BURTRAW: That is being a little bit too rosy. What I would say - it's as though the federal government is taking its foot off the accelerator, and now we're going to be coasting. Many of the states that are providing leadership and developing policies will continue to do their part of the work, and I think the state-level policies will propagate to other states.

But the problems cannot ultimately be solved without some sort of federal involvement. The states can go so far, but they cannot really leverage the kind of actions that's necessary, especially on climate, at the international level. That requires a role for the federal government to coordinate and compel international partners to do their part.

SIEGEL: Dallas Burtraw, senior fellow with the D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future, thanks for talking with us today.

BURTRAW: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.