Climate Federalism in the Time of COVID-19: Can the States “Save” American Climate Policy?

24 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2020

See all articles by Kirsten H. Engel

Kirsten H. Engel

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: June 18, 2020


States attempting to address climate change today face a host of new challenges. A lack of adequate national leadership on the pandemic is forcing states, and especially state governors, to pick up the slack in responding to this overwhelming health crisis. This may better equip them to respond to natural disasters that are projected to be more frequent and severe with climate change, such as wildfires, hurricanes and flooding. But the importance of responding to the pandemic will inevitably edge out other priorities such as climate change at the same time it threatens to drain state and local government coffers. Even aside from the curve-ball thrown by the pandemic, the prospects for robust state and local action on climate change will also depend on legal variables extrinsic to climate policy debates, such as the success to preempt state regulations of GHGs through vehicle emission standards and energy generation.

Although President Trump can pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and may succeed in rolling back federal climate regulations, he cannot extinguish the power of states, individually or collectively, to address climate change. Nevertheless, states currently face numerous unanticipated challenges in addressing the climate crisis due to the global coronavirus pandemic. This as well as legal hurdles to their power to address various aspects of the climate crisis will shape the effectiveness of future state and local climate actions.

Keywords: Climate change, climate change mitigation, climate federalism, climate initiatives, American climate policy, Paris climate agreement, federal climate regulations, The Trump Administration, COVID-19 pandemic

Suggested Citation

Engel, Kirsten H., Climate Federalism in the Time of COVID-19: Can the States “Save” American Climate Policy? (June 18, 2020). 47 Northern Kentucky Law Review 116 (2020), Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 20-28, Available at SSRN:

Kirsten H. Engel (Contact Author)

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States
520-621-5444 (Phone)

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