Moving the Climate Change Debate from Models to Proposed Legislation: Lessons from State Experience

48 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2008 Last revised: 23 Jul 2015

See all articles by John C. Dernbach

John C. Dernbach

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School


This Article assesses the relationship between state climate change mitigation measures and potential national climate change legislation. It describes and evaluates eleven different legal and policy tools being employed by states. These are: customer choice of electricity providers, environmental labeling requirements for electricity sources, building codes requiring energy efficiency, demand-side management, system benefit charges, cap-and-trade programs, tax credits, net metering, planning and siting preferences for renewable energy facilities, CO2 limits for new power plants, and renewable energy portfolio standards.

Two broad conclusions emerge from this analysis. First, these tools have considerable potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They achieve reductions primarily within the borders of the states that enacted them, not elsewhere. These tools are often used in mutually reinforcing combinations, not as stand-alone measures. While no one of these tools is necessarily capable of achieving great reductions, the careful combination of many tools is likely to have significant effects. To be sure, the effect of state actions so far is relatively modest. Still, they have considerable potential to reduce net emissions. These tools also provide a variety of benefits in addition to mitigating climate change. They are intended to conserve energy, limit other air pollutants, foster local economic growth, lower energy costs on the poor, and serve other purposes. Indeed, they are notable in part because these other benefits likely equal or even exceed their benefits in reducing greenhouse gases. Finally, these tools appear to involve negligible costs.

Second, a strong case can be made for applying these tools at the national level. Many state tools result from, or work within the framework of, federal energy or environmental law. National use of these tools is likely to result in deeper reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions than state-by-state action. National uniformity in rules, particularly for market-based approaches, is likely to enhance the effectiveness of such approaches. National use of these tools is also more likely to reduce national security risks from climate change. If these tools can work at the state level, they surely can do so nationally. Because states have historic police power roles that are relevant to climate change, moreover, any national legislation should enlist the states in creative and effective ways.

Keywords: Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, climate change, states, state government, sustainable development, sustainability climate change, state climate change initiatives, federal climate change legislation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, federalism, federal government, state g

JEL Classification: K32, Q4, Q42, Q43, Q48, I18, Q01

Suggested Citation

Dernbach, John C., Moving the Climate Change Debate from Models to Proposed Legislation: Lessons from State Experience. Environmental Law Reporter, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2000, Available at SSRN:

John C. Dernbach (Contact Author)

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School ( email )

3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9380
United States

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