Scaling Up State and Local Government Efforts to Ensure A Just Transition

The Biden Administration has focused his governing agenda on recommitting the United States to the Paris Agreement and advancing environmental and racial justice. While much has been written about this focus, what has not been emphasized is how some of his efforts are a result of scaling up innovations from state and local governments. State and local governments are innovating and piloting policies that can help usher in not just a transition to a cleaner energy future, but a transition to a more clean and just future. One of the areas of significant local innovation right now is around what we might refer to as climate equity or climate justice policies.

As an example, the Justice40 Initiative that the Biden administration announced in an Executive Order earlier this year was created to ensure that Federal agencies deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. What is less known, however, is that this Justice40 Initiative was modeled after New York State’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019, which contains a similar provision and was shaped by environmental justice community leaders from around the state.

As another example, consider the adoption by many cities of building performance standards (BPS) that would compel real estate owners and developers to improve energy and water efficiency, electrify and otherwise decarbonize their buildings to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. If enough cities and states were to adopt them, regulating from the bottom-up would clearly accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy nationwide. Buildings account for over half of total city emissions on average. Slashing their emissions ultimately will involve greening the electric grid. Cities like Boston, Washington DC,