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Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy
On Monday, October 28, 2013, the governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the premier of British Columbia signed a landmark climate change agreement, known as the Action Plan, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy incentives along the Pacific Coast. In a novel process that bypassed the federal legislative processes in the United States and Canada, the signatories committed themselves to a plethora of implementation activities aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Whether the Action Plan is a fleeting gesture or a blueprint for truly effective climate and energy policy will become apparent in the first months of 2014, as the signatory states and province set about implementing the concrete actions that the Plan requires.
The Action Plan is the first multi-jurisdictional agreement of its kind, reflecting the desire of its signatories to pursue collaborative approaches to mitigate climate change impacts, despite a lack of binding federal or international law. Upon signing the agreement, Washington governor Jay Inslee reflected on the region’s passion and pride for progressive environmental action, declaring that, “on the West Coast, we intend to design the future, not to wreck it.”
The Action Plan arose out of meetings of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a regional organization of representatives from the governments of the four signatories to the Plan. The members had previously drafted an accord that would have established a regional joint carbon trading market, had it not been fiercely opposed in state legislatures. Together, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia account for a population of 53 million and the world’s fifth largest economy, with a GDP of $2.8 trillion. As the economies of the respective states are regionally linked, the Plan also grew out of a desire to have consistent climate change policies and incentives driving the regional markets. The impetus of the Plan was what state leaders perceived as a lack of leadership and action on climate change policy from the federal government. Furthermore, the goals outlined in the Plan would create an additional one million jobs in the energy and transportation fields.
Drafted as a non-binding resolution, the Plan lays out several regional goals, which the signatories have agreed to achieve in their respective jurisdictions. The Plan provides that signatories will link carbon-pricing programs for “consistency and predictability” and “harmonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions.” The Plan requires that all policies should be grounded in the “scientific understanding of climate change.” Other key goals are the “adoption of the low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction” and for ten percent of “new public and private vehicle purchases” to be electric by 2016. The Plan also recognizes that “providing high-speed passenger rail service” is a necessary part of increasing clean transportation through the region, as well as supporting “emerging markets and innovation for alternative fuels.” Other goals include streamlining “renewable energy infrastructure” and “integration of the region’s electricity grids.” Finally, the four signatories will work together to “press for an international agreement on climate change in 2015.”
What impact will the Action Plan have on the greatest environmental challenge facing all levels of government and the world’s population? If the signatories fail to enact key provisions, the Action Plan may be just an empty gesture. However, its proponents and signatories hope it will be used as a model for climate change negotiations at the 2015 Conference of the Parties in Paris, and as a blueprint for any regional state, local, and provincial governments seeking to push greener energy policies, even when their respective federal governments are in a stalemate or decline to act. In addition, the Plan could spur more American states and Canadian provinces to follow suit, resulting in climate policy driven by regional and possibly even local governments. Perhaps it will be at the local and regional levels where climate impacts are most keenly felt, that successful climate actions will emerge.
Hillary Hoffmann is a professor at the Vermont Law School.
Andrew Minikowski is a second-year JD/Master of Environmental Law and Policy student and a staff editor at VJEL. Upon graduation, he plans to practice environmental law with a focus on natural resources and wildlife management.