Pulling in Both Directions: How States Are Moving Toward Decarbonization While Continuing to Support Fossil Fuels

46 Pages Posted: 22 May 2020

See all articles by Heather Payne

Heather Payne

Seton Hall University - School of Law

Date Written: April 25, 2020


The scientific consensus is clear. The earth’s climate is changing, and to stave off the most dramatic effects, mankind must take collective bold action toward decarbonization in order to stay below 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels. While the pace of accelerated decarbonization is still being debated as a political question, it is already impacting business decisions and needs to also be addressed by regulators. This is especially true as current scenarios continue to see emissions above the targets necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with growing recognition that “much more radical action” would need to occur to meet the 1.5 degree C goal.

When decarbonization is mentioned most often – by regulators, academics, and legislators – the discussion is typically focused on electricity generation, and how electricity can be decarbonized. Second is transportation, and what the requirements will be to decarbonize transportation.

This article will demonstrate the focus of state-level decarbonization on electricity generation, and, to a lesser extent, transportation. It then makes the case that these actions are both insufficient to address the scale of the problem we are facing and, in fact, that states continue to support fossil fuel use – intentionally, unintentionally, for political expediency, or perhaps because it was the right approach to achieve policy objectives a decade ago. The article then provides two case studies of states where legislative and executive branches did not necessarily agree with regulatory decisions. More coordinated action by states – both in the political sphere and by regulatory bodies – is necessary to confront the challenge from climate change. This intentional, coordinated action will lessen the drag in the system and allow for the financial and political capital to implement the necessary change to achieve deep decarbonization more quickly.

Keywords: decarbonization, electricity generation, transportation, coordinated action, climate change, state action, regulation

JEL Classification: K23, L98, Q48

Suggested Citation

Payne, Heather, Pulling in Both Directions: How States Are Moving Toward Decarbonization While Continuing to Support Fossil Fuels (April 25, 2020). Columbia Journal of Environmental Law Vol. 45, No. S (2020), Seton Hall Public Law Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3586001

Heather Payne (Contact Author)

Seton Hall University - School of Law ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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