Climate Governance & Equity
Policies that establish targets, plans, accountability, and other important procedures to properly address climate and environmental justice
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the primary driver of global warming, and limiting them is key to mitigating the effects of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are policies set by a state to reduce the amount of carbon emissions across all economic sectors. These targets aim to reduce emissions by different amounts over time, often in a percentage based on a baseline year. These targets can be set at the city, state, or country level.
Well-designed greenhouse gas targets sharply reduce the state’s emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement goals through 2050, and they will have short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals. More ambitious targets have steeper emission reductions in the short-term, such as a 2030 target, and reach net zero by 2050. Codifying a state’s emissions targets into law can help to ensure that the state takes appropriate action to meet their commitments. The best policies will also have provisions for citizens to take legal action if the state fails to meet their targets.
- National Conference of State Legislatures — Greenhouse Gas Target Tracker
- Environmental Defense Fund — Progress on State-led Climate Action
- UC Berkeley California-China Climate Institute — States Climate Action Map
- Hawaii HB 2182 (2018) — Establishes a net-negative target by 2045 for the state
- Massachusetts S.9, Creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy (2021) — Sets a net-zero target by 2050 and requires the state to set interim 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2045 emissions reduction targets.
- Maryland SB 528, Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 (2022) — Establishes a target of 60% reduction below 2006 emissions levels by 2031 and net-zero emissions by 2045.
Climate Action Plan
Under the Paris Agreement, member countries are committed to nationally determined contribution targets (NDCs) that would specify the nation’s intended mitigation measures. At the subnational level, it’s important for U.S. states to have a “climate action plan” that clearly outlines the ways that state intends to not only meet its emissions reduction targets, but also improve quality of life for its citizens.
Effective climate action plans will have a legislative directive with input from a climate advisory group, a near-term due date for a finalized plan, and a structure to update their plan. Climate action plans typically include policies that the state intends to implement to mitigate climate change across all sectors of the economy, and they should address environmental justice at every level of the plan. The best plans will forecast what effects the outlined policies will have on emissions, address the cost of inaction on climate, and explain other social, environmental, and economic benefits the plan will have for the state.
- U.S. EPA — Developing a State Climate Change Action Plan
- Climate XChange — How Do States Plan to Meet their Climate Commitments?
- Serena E. Alexander — Harnessing the opportunities and understanding the limits of state level climate action plans in the United States
- New York’s S.5699 – Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (2019) — Requires the Climate Action Council to adopt a scoping plan and interim updates to the scoping plan to align with the state’s targets
- Massachusetts S.9, Creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy (2021) — Outlines requirements for 5-year climate plans.
Interagency Commissions & Task Forces
Interagency climate bodies, typically a “commission” or “task force” are governmental bodies responsible for coordinating state-wide climate policy efforts, and often for researching and writing a state’s climate action plan by a short-term deadline. They are typically created through greenhouse gas target legislation or executive order.
Interagency climate bodies include members from departments and agencies focused on energy, environment, transportation, agriculture, public health, and housing. Effective bodies also include representation from agencies and departments that are indirectly implementing policies to address climate change and transition to clean energy, such as commerce, labor, administrative services, and public safety. Due to their governmental membership, interagency bodies can directly influence and implement aspects of their state’s climate action plan.
Non-Governmental Advisory Bodies
Climate advisory bodies communicate a state’s efforts to include diverse stakeholders in the writing and implementation of their climate plans. Effective advisory bodies will include governmental members, as well as representatives from all economic sectors, youth and environmental justice advocates, non-profit leaders, and other climate experts that can help ensure an equitable transition from a fossil fuel economy.
Climate advisory bodies are often created through greenhouse gas target legislation or executive order and are tasked with researching and writing that state’s climate action plan by a short-term deadline. The most effective advisory bodies will be directly influencing their state’s climate action plan, with less effective ones only making non-binding recommendations to a governing body.
- New Mexico Interagency Climate Change Task Force — The Task Force is made up of nine smaller, interagency Climate Action Teams responsible for proposing, planning, and implementing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance New Mexico’s ability to adapt to climate change.
- Minnesota Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change — The advisory council works with the interagency Climate Change Subcabinet to identify opportunities for, and barriers to, policies and strategies to reduce GHG emissions and increase climate resiliency.
State GHG Emissions Inventory
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories report the major sources and activities responsible for emitting GHGs in a given year. Common greenhouse gases reported include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrogen oxide (N2O).
A state’s total and sector-specific emissions, such as electricity, transportation, and industry, are reported to highlight the biggest sources of emissions. Inventories also include historical emissions, typically the baseline year of a state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, which allows a state to see where progress has been made in reducing emissions and where additional measures are needed. In addition to sector breakdowns, some inventories include data on emissions by fuel type in each sector and source.
- NCSL — Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets and Market-based Policies
- U.S. EPA — State GHG Emissions and Removals
- U.S. EPA — State and Tribal Greenhouse Gas Data and Resources
- Washington State — RCW 70A.45.020 requires the state to track and report greenhouse gas emissions in each major sector every two years.
- Colorado SB 19-096 (2019) — Requires the state Air Pollution Control Division to update Colorado’s GHG inventory at least every two years and include emissions forecasts tracking progress made toward achieving the state’s GHG reduction targets.
Green Banks, also called Clean Energy Funds, are institutions focused on financing clean energy adoption. They are public, quasi-public, or non-profit institutions that are established at the county, state, or national level. More than a dozen states have established a green bank, under several different structures, legislative directives, and funding sources.
Green Banks address clean energy market gaps and financial barriers, and aim to attract private investment in clean energy and energy efficiency. Green Banks achieve this through direct financing, such as loans and co-investments, and market development activities, such as information sharing and partnership building. Programs financed by a green bank typically include clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades, climate-resilient infrastructure, water infrastructure, and waste management infrastructure.
- NREL — Green Banks
- Coalition for Green Capital — What is a Green Bank
- Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) — Catalyzing Investment with a National Climate Bank: Lessons from Subnational Green Banks
- Connecticut — The Connecticut Green Bank, established by Public Act-11-80 (2011), is the country’s first green bank. It has financing programs for energy efficiency upgrades, renewable energy development, and building electrification. Connecticut Green Bank offers programs for home, building, and multifamily property owners; residential and commercial contractors; cities and towns; and capital providers.
- Hawaii — Established by Act 211, Session Laws of Hawaii 2013 (2013), the Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) program provides affordable and accessible low-interest loan options to residential and commercial customers in Hawaii, with minimal barriers to entry in their pursuit of renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment and infrastructure.
Lead by Example
“Lead by example” is an umbrella term for policy actions that a state government can take to show energy efficiency leadership. Lead by example follows the concept that state governments can make significant changes that inspire local governments, and potentially individuals, to follow suit and adopt energy efficient technologies.
Governments may adopt energy efficiency policies and programs to reduce energy usage in public buildings, facilities, and property. These can include setting energy savings targets, retrofitting older or more energy intensive buildings, providing benchmarking data, and other related policies. For government vehicle fleets, including school buses, public transit buses, and emergency response vehicles, states may establish fuel efficiency or electric vehicle adoption requirements. These requirements typically become more stringent over time, making a greater share of vehicle fleets more efficient and/or zero emission.
- ACEEE — Government Lead by Example
- ACEEE — State Transportation Fleets
- MJ Bradley & Associates — Fleet-Based Measures Policy Explorer
- ACEEE — State Transportation Electrification Scorecard
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law — Capturing the Federal EV Tax Credit for Public Fleets
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law — LPDD Model Executive Order: Green Fleets
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law — LPDD Model Law: Clean Fleet Legislation
- New Buildings Institute — Model Government Zero Emissions Building Policy
- Connecticut — The state government leads by example by benchmarking energy usage in state buildings, requiring efficient public buildings and vehicles, and encouraging energy savings performance contracting.
- Maryland — The state government leads by example by requiring energy-efficient public buildings, benchmarking energy use, and encouraging the use of energy savings performance contracts.
- Vermont HB 529 (2019) — Set a 2021 target to make 75% of purchased or leased vehicles for the State Vehicle Fleet fully electric or hybrid.
- Rhode Island Executive Order 15-17 (2015) — Requires that, by 2025, 25% of new light-duty state fleet purchases and leases must be zero-emissions vehicles.
- Hawaii HB 4552 (2021) — Sets a goal to have the state’s light-duty vehicle fleet be made up of 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Beginning January 2022, all new light-duty passenger vehicles purchased for the state fleet must be zero-emissions.
- Minnesota Executive Order 19-27 (2019) — Requires a 30% reduction of state fleet fossil fuel consumption by 2027 from 2017 baseline
Environmental Justice Community Designation
An environmental justice (EJ) community is most basically defined as any minority, low-income, tribal, or Indigenous population or geographic location in the United States that experiences disproportionate environmental harms and risks. This disproportionality can be a result of greater vulnerability to environmental hazards, lack of opportunity for public participation, or other factors. EJ community designation describes the state’s recognition of situations where multiple factors, including both environmental and socioeconomic stressors, may act cumulatively to affect health and the environment and contribute to persistent environmental health disparities.
To identify environmental justice communities, states establish explicit, directly measurable definitions. These definitions describe the specific, quantifiable thresholds that qualify a geographical area as an EJ community, including household income levels or cumulative pollution burden. These definitions typically occur at the census tract or block group level within states.
- USDA — Cities and Towns that Include Environmental Justice Communities
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law — Emerging State-Level Environmental Justice Laws
- Climate XChange — An Assessment of Environmental Justice Policy in U.S. Climate Alliance States
- California SB 535 (2017) — CalEPA established a tailored “disadvantaged community” definition based on 20 geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria.
- New Jersey Chapter 92 (2020) — Establishes a tailored “overburdened community” definition based on income, race, and English proficiency.
- Maine L.D. 2018 (2022) – Requires the Department of Environmental Protection to define environmental justice populations, at a minimum taking into consideration “median household income, race, ethnicity, and English language proficiency”.
Environmental Justice Bureaucracy
EJ Advisory Bodies
EJ advisory bodies are policy consultants composed of appointed experts and stakeholders representing various communities and are responsible for making recommendations and increasing public engagement. They can be a helpful vehicle of influence into government decisions but have historically failed to include community voices. EJ advisory bodies can help influence governmental decision-making by representing EJ priorities and public interest within a group of authority that is independent from state government.
Advisory bodies are useful for increasing intentional representation and public engagement, while dedicated environmental justice staff within a state’s government act as vital implementers of EJ policy. However, the existence of either of these authorities does not ensure that environmental justice goals are being met; they are subject to political capture and subversion and can also lack the authority to counteract environmental injustices. Advisory bodies established through other means are typically formed through an agency or interagency initiative. Unlike bodies formed through executive orders, these have more staying power and are closely related to those created through legislation. Many environmental justice advisory bodies are established and maintained through a governor’s executive order — making them vulnerable to dissolution in the event of an administration change.
EJ Government Staff
EJ staff are employees of a state office or agency who are dedicated to developing, implementing, and evaluating EJ policies and programs. These staff members work to address EJ issues in communities across the state, and their work often includes engaging with communities for consultation on environmental justice issues, including providing guidance for state environmental grants, enhancing participation in permitting processes, improving environmental education among residents, and elevating community stakeholders such as EJ organizations, tribal governments, labor groups, and more. They can also assist with coordinating EJ initiatives between the office of the Governor and state agencies.
- New York S.2385/A.1564 (2019) — Establishes a permanent Environmental Justice Advisory Group (EJAG) and Environmental Justice Interagency Coordinating Council (EJICC)
- California’s EJ Advisory Committee — EJ advisory group is codified in law, has permanent staff, and includes multiple entities in different parts of state government dedicated to EJ.
- Washington SB 5141 – Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act (2021) — Creates an Environmental Justice Council to provide recommendations and guidance to the state. Also requires a coordinated state agency approach to environmental justice, resulting in seven state agencies having or adding environmental justice and equity-focused directors.
- Oregon HB 4077 (2022) — Codifies the existing Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF) as the Environmental Justice Council, with expanded capacity and dedicated staff and funding.
Environmental Justice Mapping Tools
Interactive environmental justice screening tools and maps visualize key environmental justice concepts, such as demographic information and environmental and public health threats. These tools increase transparency and allow decision-makers, activists, and residents to identify environmental justice communities and take action. Although the EPA’s EJSCREEN is nationally available, several states have developed their own contextual mapping systems.
Some states have socioeconomic data, air pollution data, and EJ community definitions established in the state, but they have yet to consolidate and democratize this data together. The efficacy of these mapping tools is contextual to the state and dependent on the public inclusion process through which the tool was developed.
The area of land or size of the population measured by state-specific tools have varying degrees of granularity, typically mapped by census blocks, census block groups, or census tracts. A census block is the smallest geographic unit available, whereas a census block group consists of clusters of blocks and are generally defined to contain between 600 and 3,000 people. Census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county that typically capture between 1,200 and 8,000 people.
- U.S. EPA EJSCREEN — Permitting and Mapping Tool is the EPA’s EJ community map which is often used by states that haven’t created their own.
- Mapping for Environmental Justice — How to Read EJ Maps
- Maryland MD EJScreen — Assesses environmental justice risks among census tracts in the state of Maryland. Developed by the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health Laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, this tool combines the average pollution burden of a community with the average population demographic characteristics to produce an Environmental Justice (EJ) score.
- California CalEnviroScreen — A statewide mapping tool (headed by the California OEHHA) that identifies California communities by census tract that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution. It specifically covers California Senate Bill 535 Disadvantaged Community Designation and is targeted for identifying areas to investment proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program.
- Washington Tracking Network — Includes an interactive mapping tool, rather than a static image, showing demographic and environmental factors and drawing from both national and state level census data.
- North Carolina Community Mapping System — Includes an interactive mapping tool, rather than a static image, and uses both environmental and demographic indicators which include socioeconomic factors, race, and community characteristics.
EJ Community Benefit Requirement
EJ community benefit requirements are provisions to help ensure communities most impacted by environmental burdens are benefitting equitably from public programs. This policy typically requires that a certain percentage of funds and/or benefits are allocated to environmental justice communities. In some states, this funding comes from fees paid by polluters, while others appropriate state funds to protect vulnerable communities. Investment in these communities seeks to reconcile the gap left by environmental racism and a lack of opportunities to meaningfully engage in zoning, development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws.
- Green for All — Equity Toolkit includes a recommendation to dedicate a minimum of 50 percent of investment funds to disadvantaged communities.
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law — The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s Environmental Justice Promise
- Greenlining Institute — Transforming Community Development Transforming Our Economy
Greenlining Institute — Fighting Redlining and Climate Change with Transformative Climate Communities
- New York S6599 – Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (2019) — Requires that 35 percent, with a goal of 40 percent, of the proceeds from greenhouse gas reduction initiatives go to disadvantaged communities.
- Illinois SB2814 – Future Energy Jobs Act (2016) — Requires that at least 25 percent of Illinois Solar for All Program funds are allocated to projects within environmental justice communities.
Site Permitting (Site Mapping)
Site permitting policies require permit applicants to follow a set of protocols to ensure overburdened communities are not adversely affected by the proposed project. These protocols include the incorporation of environmental justice concerns in permitting, the inclusion of community stakeholders in the permitting process, and the use of tools such as the EPA’s EJSCREEN to identify potential impacts on vulnerable communities. States with site permitting policies will not grant permits until a comprehensive impact assessment is conducted by the permit applicant.
A lack of regulation in the site permitting process places a disproportionate burden on low-income and minority communities. Site permitting policies help to alleviate the potential adverse impacts of new construction on overburdened communities and the environment. Permitting policies ask applicants to assess the “cumulative impacts” of a future project. New Jersey’s site permitting law defines cumulative impacts as “the disproportionate exposure of a community to public health or environmental hazards from one or multiple facilities including power plants, recycling facilities, sewage plants, incinerators, landfills, and others.”
Site permitting policies face critique by the business community who believe the permitting process is already restrictive without additional environmental justice considerations.
- California Heat Assessment Tool — Created by the California Natural Resources Agency so local and state practitioners can better understand dimensions of heat vulnerability driven by climate changes and where action can be taken to mitigate public health impacts of extreme heat in the future.
- New Jersey Senate Bill 232 (2020) — Requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental protection to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.