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Your Vote Matters

October 19, 2022

If you are a human living on planet earth (which most of us are), then clean energy is an issue that affects your life and your future.   It is most definitely “on the ballot” this November.

It doesn’t take much to see how differently candidates for office see our future – some want to increase Americans’ access to solar, electric vehicles, and other sources of renewable energy, while others want to stay entrenched in polluting, climate-harming energy sources that rely on fossil fuels.  We need people in power who listen to scientists rather than downplaying the certainty and scale of the climate crisis at hand.

We need to let candidates know voters care about clean energy and plan to elect candidates that do, too. It matters for federal, state, and local elections too—places where much of the clean energy action is happening. 

Americans want clean energy

Americans across the political spectrum recognize the importance of climate change as an issue and want clean, renewable energy now. Roughly half of registered voters say climate change is either “very important” or “one of the most important issues” in their vote for who represents them in Congress. 

With increasing weather extremes and hurricanes, climate change is now top of mind for many Americans. In fact, public support for government climate action is higher among U.S. adults who have been personally affected by extreme weather events than those who have not. Bold public investment in clean energy is critical to moving us towards a better future. 

Across both sides of the political spectrum, there is broad support for clean energy policy. In fact, many red states are poised to benefit from clean energy development and local jobs, especially as the South turns into a hub for EV manufacturing.

Climate doesn’t have to be as partisan as we’ve made it out to be. Climate Leadership Council CEO Greg Bertelsen argues that “Republicans in Congress can work on climate change and be on rock solid ground with their base,” pointing to their candidate’s success in previous election cycles. 

In a time of polarization, clean energy continues to poll as a winning issue. The 2021 cycle offers many examples of candidates who emphasized clean energy and climate change more than before, and won. For example, Michelle Wu was elected mayor of Boston following a campaign in which she emphasized environmental justice, sustainable transit, and the need to cut carbon emissions across the economy.

If you care about climate change, head to the polls

Politicians listen to their constituents, so showing up and voting is just as important as who you cast your ballot for. We need more voters showing up at each election and at town halls, telling their representatives that climate is an issue that matters to them.

Since 2015, Environmental Voter Project has contacted 8.6 million non-voters and seldom-voters, and over one million of those people have become “super-voters,” meaning they cast a ballot in every election. These were all once environmentalists who never or rarely voted, but now they consistently vote their values, electing climate champions and voting for clean energy. Now every election, one million more voices elevate the importance of climate as an important issue not to be forgotten.

Your vote matters, so make sure it counts

So if you’re ready to head to the polls, make sure you’re registered and know where your polling place is. Until election day, it’s time to be vocal and influence your networks. Tell your friends and co-workers about why you are voting and what issues matter to you—hint: climate change, clean energy jobs, affordable energy, etc. You can also level-up and take your advocacy to the next level by volunteering with Environmental Voter Project and help turn environmentalists into voters, or volunteer to help staff your local polling place and ensure we have safe, fair, and efficient elections for all.

Want to know who the best climate champions are in your upcoming state and local elections? Check out the nationwide candidate endorsements from Sierra Club. Climate Cabinet has some handy state scorecards for AZ, MN, TX, and NC. Your local Sierra Club chapter should be able to provide greater details regarding local races and ballot measures, too.  The League of Conservation voters has a national environmental scorecard, too. 

Americans support climate policies, but at the same time, we underestimate popular support for climate action by nearly half. The climate movement can’t afford to only get political every 2 or 4 years—having climate champions in local offices are key to moving climate policy forward year-round.

We need your voice. Show up to the polls this election—and every election—to vote clean energy.

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Four ways red states are benefiting from clean energy development

October 12, 2022

Sometimes American political discourse can feel so divisive that it seems we face an unbridgeable chasm. But on some issues – like in the case of clean energy – there is, perhaps surprisingly, wide agreement on both sides of the political aisle. 

It’s hard to argue with this common sense point from conservative Republican Tom Ridge: “Any reasonable policy will require people across the political spectrum to recognize, first, that climate change is a serious problem and, second, that the United States, with its enormous appetite for energy, must harness all practical carbon-free sources.”

“Any reasonable policy will require people across the political spectrum to recognize, first, that climate change is a serious problem and, second, that the United States, with its enormous appetite for energy, must harness all practical carbon-free sources.”

A large majority of us believe we should be generating more wind (66%) and solar energy (73%), according to Gallup poll results from 2021, and 60% of us favor dramatically reducing U.S. use of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal. Recent polling from Yale University finds a majority of registered voters think developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority, as 52% of Americans think policies that promote clean energy will improve economic growth and create jobs. Yet another poll from Pew Research finds similarly high levels of support for wind and solar, though it notes the gap between Democrats and Republicans has widened.

Climate denial, doubt, and delay, in addition to attacks on climate science, hinder American democracy. This rhetoric shouldn’t be ignored, but there’s no time to delay climate action further. In this energy transition, it’s important to recognize that not only is there widespread support for clean energy, but red states are actually helping to lead it. Here are four ways they are moving the clean energy economy forward.

Clean energy generation

Across multiple measures—total renewable energy generation, most clean power added in 2021, and highest shares of wind and solar on the grid—red states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida are renewable energy powerhouses, and voted for Trump notwithstanding. 

“On just about any metric you care to look at, the green transition’s physical assets are more often found on red ground than on blue,” the authors of a recent Bloomberg Opinion column write. “The most obvious reason for this is the ground itself.” Across much of the country’s rural real estate, wind and solar make good economic sense, even if that real estate happens to lie within Republican-led districts. 

Photo credit: WeForum

Clean energy jobs and investment

Growing clean energy development translates to added jobs and investment. In fact, regardless of the opposition from some Republican leaders, the recently passed Inflation  Reduction Act will send billions of dollars to their states to build on progress already being made in clean energy. According to the White House’s state fact sheets on the law, Texas has 238,884 workers in clean energy jobs and will see an estimated $66.5 billion of investment in large-scale clean power generation and storage over the next eight years. 

Photo credit: IEA

Across 30 states, many of them Republican-leaning, jobs in renewable energy now outnumber those in coal and gas, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, and nationwide, clean energy jobs employ 3.5 times more people than the fossil fuel industry.

Billions more dollars have flowed to red states through the Volkswagen settlement for the automaker’s violation of the Clean Air Act. States like North Carolina are using the money to buy electric school buses and other zero- or low-emission vehicles.

Although you won’t find many EVs on the back roads yet in Alabama and Tennessee, thousands of residents in these states have taken on jobs in EV manufacturing to meet growing nationwide demand. Forty-six percent of vehicle production in the U.S. currently happens in the South, so it’s no surprise that more investment is going there. Ford plans to build twin battery plants in central Kentucky, creating over 11,000 local EV jobs, and Volkswagen’s recent Battery Engineering Lab now employs over 4,000 Chattanooga, TN, locals. Hyundai also plans to build its first EV-only plant in the U.S., right outside of Savannah, Georgia. 

Climate goals

When state economies run on increasing amounts of renewable energy, net-zero emissions policies start to look better and better. Nebraska’s largest electric utility, which is publicly owned, recently set a goal to decarbonize its power sector by 2050. Though the state still gets most of its power from coal, wind power is strong there and bound to get even stronger, with an estimated $24.5 billion of clean power investment coming in from the Inflation Reduction Act. North Carolina, too, recently passed climate legislation, putting the state on a path to zero out carbon emissions from electricity. These shifts reflect the reality seen in the poll results: the public supports clean energy and the policies that increase it.

City-level action

Despite significant clean energy advancement, many red states (and, to be fair, many blue states) still lag in important climate measures like carbon emissions per dollar of economic output, support for federal climate policies and fossil fuel industry regulations, building energy codes, and electric vehicle adoption and incentives (though Florida and Texas are in the top three for EV registrations, behind California). Here’s where cities and counties have an opportunity to take up the slack. Places like Orlando, Cincinnati, and San Antonio are pursuing sustainable initiatives through the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, while the U.S. government’s Clean Cities Coalition Network is helping to advance better transportation options at the municipal level.  

All of this adds up to common ground. Advocates like Conservatives for Clean Energy, a group that focuses on five Southeastern states, emphasize the economic opportunity of clean energy more than the environmental benefits. Regardless of how they frame the issue, however, the goal is the same: To expand the nation’s store of reliable, affordable energy. 

Despite the deep political divisions in our country, we can all unite behind a better, cleaner future. As we near the holiday season and uncomfortable climate conversations arise, we can share how the clean energy transition will benefit all Americans and how many red states are leading the way towards a clean energy future.

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This back to school season, follow the money at your college or university

September 21, 2022

Well, it’s done. You’ve set up the dorm room, reviewed the class schedule, checked out the dining hall, and bid familial farewells until winter break. Whether you’re a departing student or the teary parent at drop-off, a lot of scrutiny—and not a little cash—has gone into the journey toward a college degree. 

But there may be one thing you haven’t looked at yet: Is your university supporting Big Oil? 

Chances are, the answer is yes, and your school’s endowment has not divested from fossil fuels. Worldwide, only 240 higher learning institutions have fully or partially divested from fossil fuels, according to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database. In the U.S. alone, some 2,000 private and public four-year schools reported endowments, says the American Council on Education, and more than 800 of them were worth more than $50 million. Endowments are funds invested into nonprofits, like universities, which support their work.

Given the climate crisis, the divestment movement argues, not a cent of that money should go into the coffers of fossil fuel companies. And after years of pressure from students and faculty, the tide is starting to turn. Last fall, Harvard University announced it “has no direct investments in companies that explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels [and] does not intend to make such investments in the future.”  

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard 🔶 (@DivestHarvard) / Twitter

Photo credit: Divest Harvard

Harvard was not the first to make such a commitment—other schools, such as the University of Massachusetts already had made similar announcements. But Harvard’s shift was a big deal for two reasons. At nearly $42 billion, the prestigious Ivy League school has the largest endowment in the nation. And it was a high-profile reversal after years of resisting calls to divest—as one headline put it, “Harvard cracks on fossil fuels and a dam breaks.”

As the perilous effects of climate change get harder to ignore, so has the role of institutions that have been pocketing returns generated by the extraction and burning of oil, gas, and coal. From churches to municipal governments to foundations, a growing number of those investors are acknowledging their responsibility to pull the plug. The Presbyterian Church (USA), which divested from five major fossil fuel companies in July, said it had tried to encourage improvements to those companies’ strategies and policies regarding climate change, but that “this process of engagement did not produce enough substantial change.” 

Public pressure is a key factor in many such decisions, and schools are no different. Whether they get acknowledged or not, students have been driving change. “Students do research, advocate, and really are partners. We cannot always do things exactly the way they would like, but their voices have influenced our decisions,” Elizabeth Bradley, the president of Vassar, said last year after the college announced climate-focused changes to its investment policy.

But divestment is not solely a matter of responding to activism—it’s increasingly a legal and financial consideration. Schools that continue to invest endowment money in companies that are clearly contributing to climate change are conflicting with their own “charitable purposes” under the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, a law in effect in every state except Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, students from five schools filed legal complaints arguing that their schools are violating this law, a legal strategy students at other schools have employed as well.

So what can you do? 

First, look into whether there are any existing divestment campaigns at your school or in your town—in addition to your school’s own networks. The group Fossil Free has a searchable site on the topic. This post also offers useful advice for researching your school’s investment holdings, such as looking up legally required disclosures with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. 

Once you’ve done your research, help organize ways to advocate for stronger divestment policies at your school. Aside from filing legal complaints, student groups across the country and beyond are recruiting support, holding protests, painting murals, and more. And connect to other groups doing the same work—Divest Harvard is a good example of showing how it’s done. 

Of course, students aren’t the only ones whose opinions matter to schools. Parents, donors, faculty, and staff can all support change. In the process, whether it’s understanding how endowments work or engaging with school officials, you’re bound to learn something that won’t be on any syllabus. And you’ll be ensuring a long, healthy future for your alma mater and many students to come.

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Between a Rock and a Gavel

July 13, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of polluters when they sided against recognizing the U.S. EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

This ruling was a major blow to the planet and makes it harder to fight climate change. In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the conservative 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court limited the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions in the power sector. They argued that under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA had exceeded congressional authority by pushing utilities to move towards clean energy and away from fossil fuel power generation.

So, what’s next?

Where do we go from here knowing we have limited time to act on climate to prevent the worst from happening? How do we do this work while maintaining hope that what many of us are fighting for will one day become a reality? And what does all of this mean for you?

For answers, we looked to a few of the leaders we trust who have been in the climate and justice fight for a long time.

Here is what they had to say: 

“The decision will have far-reaching implications and will compromise the ability of federal agencies to use science-based information to combat climate change and protect public health. But this decision still leaves room for the EPA to act on its duty to take on carbon pollution from power plants. We will continue to fight back — our lives and our planet depend on it.” – Earthjustice Senior Vice President, Sambhav Sankar

While global air pollution affects everyone on earth, it does not affect everyone equally. Unfortunately, we know that most Americans live with unsafe air pollution levels. Communities of color are far more likely to live in areas with higher rates of air pollution, toxic waste facilities, and landfills, and those communities are fighting for environmental justice.

“Of all regions of the country, the South has the most to lose from unchecked climate change. And the most to gain from an economy that relies on clean energy. Our environment is only as clean as the regulations that protect it. Today’s decision is devastating for the South and for the country, and should heighten the urgency for localities, states, and for us all to take action for climate solutions.” – Senior Attorney Frank Rambo, Leader of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Energy and Air Program

This decision is part of an even broader radical, conservative-led effort to weaken the government’s ability to regulate anything. Despite this decision, we must continue to hold polluters accountable and fight to protect our rights for a clean and just planet.

“Moms across the country call on EPA to act with urgency and speed to get limits of fossil-fuels power plants — and cars and trucks, oil and gas development, and industrial sources — on the books. EPA must remain true to its mission, to protect human health and the environment.” – Dominique Browning, Vice President, EDF; Director and Co-Founder Moms Clean Air Force

Many utilities have been closing coal plants over the past decade since cleaner forms of energy are the wiser economical choice, like solar farms and wind turbines. Yet, companies in the coal business and the trade group America’s Power, which led the court case against the EPA, wield their power to protect fossil fuel interests.

“Decisions like WV vs. EPA make it clear just how much the system is rigged against us. A Supreme Court that sides with the fossil fuel industry over the health and safety of its people is anti-life and illegitimate. As we figure out what this means for us, Biden must expand the court and use all of his executive authority to justly transition our country to 100% renewable energy.” – Sunrise Movement

Even with the EPA’s restricted ability to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions, there is still plenty we can do to reverse the current climate trajectory.

“The ruling recognizes the EPA’s authority to limit the carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, while narrowing the agency’s options for doing so. This leaves the EPA in the climate fight but makes it harder to win it. Under the Court’s decision, the EPA can still write standards that require these plants to operate more cleanly. Nearly eight in ten Americans—78 percent—support such limits. It’s time for the EPA to use the full extent of its lawful authority to cut this pollution.” – Manish Bapna, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Millions of people and the majority of the country are aligned to fight for a healthy planet; check out how you can have an impact by channeling your anger or anxiety into action. Stay well, and stay safe. We have a long fight ahead—but together, we’ve got this.

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Let’s celebrate energy independence

July 7, 2022

Every July 4th, the smell of burgers grilling, sound of firecrackers bursting, and sight of sparklers sizzling remind us of the freedom we enjoy here in America.

As we clean up from the cookout and get ready for the second half of summer, another type of liberty is on people’s minds—energy independence.

Across the country, Americans are cranking up the AC and turning on fans to contend with climate change-caused sweltering conditions. Despite falling about 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy consumption is set to grow 4% in 2022 driven by urbanization and increased access to electricity. 

To meet this demand, America still depends on foreign oil, which keeps us vulnerable to international crises and tied to dictators who don’t share our values.

We need a new framework for energy independence—an electrified economy powered by locally-produced wind and solar, freeing us from contributing to the problem we’re trying to solve.

What does ‘energy independence’ actually mean?

Energy independence has been relegated to a buzzword, with people choosing to define the phrase in ways that support their arguments. The simplest definition is when a country produces more energy than it consumes.

Even though America technically produces enough oil to meet its needs, it would be inefficient to base all of our consumption solely on domestic production. Foreign oil is often cheaper to get out of the ground, for a variety of reasons. Also, American-drilled oil tends to be light and sweet, so heavier foreign oil needs to be imported for industries that require that type. Pivoting to the growing demand for wind and solar energy would also lessen our reliance on importing heavy crude.

True energy independence in the US would mean freedom from foreign oil producers and insulation against unpredictable price shocks. The key here isn’t to produce more domestic oil to fill the gap—it’s to transition to a clean energy-based economy that would sever our reliance on foreign oil producers who don’t share our interest in creating a healthier future for everyone.

Benefits of renewables-based energy independence

Besides the obvious environmental value of being carbon-free, wind and solar energy are abundant and don’t require harmful drilling.

Anchored by these two sources, renewables can set the foundation for true energy independence in America—the kind where energy is produced where it is used and needed, not shipped from halfway across the globe.

Unlike most issues of our time, this one appeals to both sides of the aisle. The left has been a long-time advocate for the climate-friendly aspects of wind and solar, while conservative states are beginning to embrace, and even lead the way, in adopting these technologies. Texas, long associated with oil production, has by far the most clean power installations in the country – with more growth forecasted. Other agriculture-heavy, Midwestern states like Iowa and Oklahoma are building wind farms at a breakneck pace.

Residents across the Great Plains are finding that wind farms produce just as many, if not more, jobs than fossil fuel power plants. Farmers also enjoy the security that leasing turbines on their fields provides—in a bad crop year, profits from generated wind energy can offset losses. Utility companies see wind electricity costs dropping, unlike those of coal and natural gas, and are investing accordingly.

Whether or not climate change is the reason for renewable energy adoption is beside the point. In the long term, it would be good for the planet if most of society were conscious of and concerned about climate change. Today, the most important thing is that the energy transition happens and it happens fast, regardless of the rationale behind it.

Plus, many Americans are already pursuing energy independence. More than 2.7 million households are generating their own power through a rooftop solar system to meet their energy needs, many of which are using that clean energy to charge their electric cars. By pairing solar with a battery storage system, you can use the excess energy generated from the solar panels during the day stored in the battery, freeing you from relying on the grid. Many hospitals and schools already leverage solar + battery storage to enhance their resiliency during power outages or in the midst of natural disasters when the power grid goes down.

Politics play a central role in the transition

In the interest of advancing the renewable energy movement, President Biden recently invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to spur domestic manufacturing in various types of clean energy. While this legislation is by no means a catch-all, it does send the right signals to industry and funds projects that are working towards a clean energy economy.

The administration has many reasons beyond climate change to build a robust American energy sector.

First of all, safeguarding a reliable supply of oil is really expensive. The U.S. government spends an estimated $81 billion per year protecting oil supplies around the globe to ensure that American gas stations are always stocked. This astronomical sum doesn’t even include the war in Iraq, which many believe was waged at least in part due to fear of a global energy crisis.

Aside from the expense, foreign oil interests hamper countries’ ability to intervene in unjust government systems abroad due to a fear of trade retaliation. European countries recently found themselves in this precarious position. Russia supplies more than a third of Europe’s gas, leaving European Union members with a bleak choice—either ban Russian oil imports and send gas prices through the roof, or continue to buy Russian gas and indirectly fund their war effort against Ukraine.

If these countries work to meet most of their energy demand with locally-produced renewables, they can avoid similar predicaments in the future. Energy independence creates multiple political wins, including freedom from trade retaliation and built-in domestic energy security.

Let’s celebrate a new kind of independence

Nearly all Americans agree that less dependence on foreign actors for our energy needs is a good thing. The divergence comes from how that independence can be realized—some argue that more domestic fossil fuel production will get us there, but oil prices are still determined by global markets.

Long-term, sustainable energy independence should be built around local power generation, primarily from wind and solar. The closer we get to this goal, the more resilient we become as a country.

So what can you do to celebrate? Take energy independence into your own hands. Pursue your own renewable energy sources by going solar—or contact your elected officials to push them toward state and federal energy independence. We all can step up to help us achieve a clean energy future.

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What does being a “clean energy voter” mean?

March 2, 2022

State primary election season is gearing up, kicking off Tuesday in Texas and continuing across the country into September. If you care about the climate, these elections are worth paying attention to. State and local elected officials—500,000 of them—are the gatekeepers to our cutting back the 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Climate Cabinet Action, a political action committee. 

Mid-terms mean we don’t need to wait for presidential elections every four years to support clean energy and climate-friendly policies. But what do you do in the interim?

The power of acting locally

You’ve heard the old phrase “think globally, act locally.” Nowhere is this idea more relevant than at the polls for city, county, and state levels of government. The officials at these tiers, from city mayors and council members to school board officials to governors, have a hand in policies that affect your access to clean energy. In many cases, their influence on your ability to “act locally” by going solar, buying an electric vehicle, and generally choosing clean energy is much greater than that of federal leaders.

Take, for example, what happens when you’re in the market for a new house. Often, decisions about whether that building will run on electricity or fossil gas have already been made, thanks to building codes and incentives. In California alone, more than 50 cities and counties have adopted building codes that prohibit or discourage new gas hookups in favor of power from an increasingly clean electric grid. This year, for example, a new policy in Contra Costa County will require new residential buildings, hotels, offices, and retail buildings to be all-electric. The county’s elected board of supervisors approved the policy 4-1. 

Similarly, state and local officials vote on whether to pursue 100% renewable energy, as more than 180 cities across the country have done; whether to incentivize electric vehicles and build charging stations; and whether to procure or install solar energy for public schools.

Sierra Club’s ‘Ready for 100’ map shows U.S. communities committed to 100% clean energy, currently powered by 100%, and/or running a local campaign.

What you can do

Being a clean energy voter means ensuring that your elected officials are doing everything they can to help shepherd a clean energy future. To start, that means finding out who they are.

A few examples of names to know for your corner of the country: U.S. lawmakers (your senators and your congressional district representative), the state governor, state legislators, the mayor and council members of your city, supervisor or executive for your county, and board of education leaders. Googling should do it, and the site Open States lists all federal and state representatives.

You don’t have to take on every clean energy issue: focus on one that’s important to you. Do you want electric buses for your child’s school district? A state rebate for electric cars or energy-efficient home renovations? Do you want your apartment building to offer EV charging? Maybe you care most about stronger policies to support going solar at home, or you’d rather see transportation funding go to public transit and bike paths rather than highway expansion projects. Pick one thing that’s important to you, find the elected official who matters, and make your voice heard.

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Every elected representative deals with a multitude of important issues, and many of them aren’t necessarily up to speed on them all. “States are chronically under-resourced,” said Caroline Spears, the founder of Climate Cabinet Action, in an interview last year. “The average state legislator in America makes $24,000 a year and has fewer than two staff.”

Spears’ group helps politicians understand and communicate about climate issues—you can too. Don’t assume your elected officials are focused on boosting clean energy just because they are Democrat—or that they aren’t thinking about it just because they are Republican. Clean energy and resilience hit home for everyone, and most local officials are pragmatists who live and work in their communities. They see where new economic opportunities and jobs lie—and these days, that’s often in the clean energy sector.

One silver lining of the pandemic is that many public meetings and town halls have gone virtual, making it easier than ever to chime in—and it’s likely many leaders will keep engaging with their constituents through remote events. Then, of course, there’s always email, social media, and in-person meetings for making your voice heard. 

It’s one thing for a politician to talk about clean energy. It’s another to actually mobilize policy that makes change real. Track how your elected officials vote—the Climate Cabinet has a handy scorecard for state legislators. Subscribe to your city and county newsletters and press releases to follow what’s happening. Take note of their participation in initiatives like the U.S. Climate Alliance (is your governor in this one?). See whether they are responsive to your suggestions on clean energy issues. Then… it’s your turn to vote.

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Event Recording: Virginia Drives Electric Virtual Town Hall

December 20, 2021

This live event occurred on December 16, 2021 as part of Generation180’s event series.

On December 16, Generation180, Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, Climate Cabinet, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network hosted a virtual town hall event with Virginia General Assembly members focused on transportation electrification, with special guest Don Hall from the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association.

Virginia recently took significant strides to reduce pollution and accelerate the Commonwealth’s transition to a clean energy economy by passing policies that support electric vehicle adoption, such as the Advanced Clean Car Standards. Now it’s time to build on this progress and further solidify Virginia’s future as a leader in advanced transportation and transportation electrification.

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COP26: What’s the deal?

November 17, 2021

Another international climate summit has wrapped up, and, like the others, it had a ton going on: delegates from nearly 200 countries, 100,000 activists, and lots of anticipation (maybe too much). (For a quick 101 on the world of climate talks and on COP26 in Glasgow, see our blog and this cheat sheet on key terms.)

The goal was to hammer out what countries will actually do, together, to combat climate change, with the aim of keeping the warming of the planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement beneath which scientists say it is critical to stay. 

While the transparency, cooperation, and peer pressure these climate summits enable are an important piece of the puzzle, we shouldn’t look to a gathering of national governments to save us. Things are moving and picking up speed—often out of the spotlight; these summits aren’t “at-bats” and we’re not “striking out”. Instead, David Roberts offers a deflationary take that is much more accurate and helpful:

“…National governments are often going to be in the caboose of this train — civic groups, the private sector, and subnational governments are leading the way. That’s distributed all over the world, less easy to see and sum up, but it shows that the caution and intransigence of national governments are not the whole story.

COP26 was a snapshot of a world — agonizingly slowly but with gathering speed — moving to address a crisis. There’s no reason for anyone to stop pushing, but there’s also nothing wrong with acknowledging and celebrating the progress that’s been achieved by all the pushing so far.”

So here’s what went down at COP26 and what that means for you.

Progress made

Without question, COP26 was a major show of force. For two weeks straight, it topped news headlines, and the reporting was among the most comprehensive ever for this kind of event. As the biggest climate conference in history, with nearly 40,000 registered delegates, it forced the world’s attention on climate change and underscored the need to take action in this critical decade, not in some distant future. In the U.S. case, it attracted participants from all sides of the political spectrum (and they weren’t all necessarily knocking climate science), suggesting that momentum is building in the right direction.

A key goal in Glasgow was to finalize the Paris Agreement’s “rule book,” the nitty-gritty guidelines required to flesh out and strengthen the 2015 agreement. Not everyone was happy with the results, but the job got done (so we give it a “plus” for effort). The final Glasgow Pact calls on countries to beef up their climate targets annually (instead of every five years) and includes rules for implementing carbon markets, which enable countries to meet their climate targets in part by trading “credits” or offsets for emission cuts by others. The pact also calls for stronger technical assistance to help vulnerable (mostly poorer, developing) countries address climate-related “loss and damage” and renews a pledge of $100 billion annually in financing to help countries green their economies, shift to clean energy, and become more resilient to climate disaster.

Perhaps the most exciting outcome of COP26 was the inclusion of the “f-word”: fossil fuels. While this doesn’t seem like a huge milestone, the Glasgow pact was the first official summit text in 25+ years of climate talks to explicitly mention the need to curb fossil fuel use. 

Outside the formal talks, notable pledges abounded: at least 105 countries agreed to slash emissions of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) 30 percent by the end of this decade; 130 countries vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 and to commit billions of dollars toward the effort; more than 40 countries agreed to phase out coal power in the coming decades; 6 automakers and 30 countries said they’ll phase out sales of gas- and diesel-powered cars and will work toward selling only zero-emissions vehicles by 2040; the U.S. and China issued a surprise joint statement that they’d do more to cut emissions this decade; and major financial institutions said they’d mobilize funding for clean energy.

In addition, several major countries, including India and Saudi Arabia, announced ambitious new targets to reach “net zero” emissions in the coming decades. This is a big deal, considering that until recently, net zero pledges covered only about 30 percent of the global economy, whereas now that share is close to 90 percent. Based on these outcomes, COP26 “has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen,” noted U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.  The International Energy Agency estimates that if countries actually follow through on their emission reduction pledges and long-term plans, the world could potentially limit warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This brings us much closer to “keeping 1.5 alive” than we were before.

What COP26 can’t do

Of course, this is all a big “if.” Everything outlined above is just a promise on paper, with little action so far and little accountability. Staying even within 1.8 degrees of warming assumes that countries like Australia, Brazil, and China will all meet their promises of reaching net zero emissions by around 2050, but concrete plans, policies, or funding to follow through are still lacking. National climate pledges are still considered too weak to avoid catastrophic warming, and most countries are on track to miss them. “The reality is you’ve got two different truths going on,” said Helen Mountford with the World Resources Institute. “We’ve made much more progress than we ever could’ve imagined a couple years ago. But it’s still nowhere near enough.” Without follow-up action, this and every other COP risks falling into the pit of youth activist Greta Thunberg’s three-word summary of the proceedings: “Blah, blah, blah.”

Many of the well-meaning pledges feature vague timelines and language, are rife with loopholes, and leave out major contributing countries or players. The fossil fuel industry also had a strong presence at the event (by one estimate, it represented a larger group than any single country). Although the Glasgow pact at least mentions fossil fuels, it does so while weakening the language on the need to reduce massive subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas (estimated at $423 billion annually). The final text sneaks in what one critic termed “weasel words,” calling for the phase-down (not “phase-out”) of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies—all of which give countries an out for continuing destructive practices. 

The climate summit also revealed the limitations of…well…climate summits—and of the international climate regime more broadly. For one, the Washington Post revealed that many countries actually underreport their greenhouse gas emissions in their submissions to the United Nations, which calls into question the whole effort to measure and track emissions, which relies on data accuracy. Decisions made at the COP must also be unanimous, with every participating country agreeing to the final wording of agreements, which inevitably leads to watered-down results. From an equity perspective, activists called COP26 “the most exclusive COP in history,” with the high cost of attending leading to a lack of global representation and a power imbalance in the negotiating rooms. The carbon footprint of the event itself was estimated to be double that of the previous COP (most of it coming from air travel). 

COP26 offered the U.S. a chance to resume its global leadership. But it also revealed that the country may only be “back” to a limited extent, given the tough political climate back home. As one of the biggest contributors to global warming, the U.S. needs to drastically cut its emissions. But President Biden faces immense political and economic barriers. Although Congress was able to approve the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes billions of dollars to help lessen the impacts of climate disasters, the funding and policies needed to actually cut U.S. emissions are still pending, including a $555 billion investment in incentives and programs to promote clean energy and electric vehicles (measures that could bring the U.S. about halfway to its goal of halving emissions by 2030). 

The path forward

Ultimately, it’s unrealistic to think that a single conference can solve our climate challenges. A climate summit can establish common ground and help transform the mindset around the issue, but, as David Roberts aptly observed, “a COP agreement can’t make a country do anything.”

We can’t wait for a collection of more than 200 countries to collectively agree upon one set of rules, and then all follow them in unison. Think of the global climate solutions movement less of a finely tuned symphony in constant harmony, and more of an improv jazz ensemble with many players and instruments joining at different times and with different levels of influence; at times finding harmony, and other times forging their own path.

One of the criticisms of recent climate activism is that the pendulum has swung too far toward blaming “the system”, neglecting the role that individuals can play. Of course, some actions can only be taken by governments. But we need to take immediate steps at all levels: global, regional, national, local, and—yes—individual. 

As individuals, we need to recognize the important influence we have—both in our personal lives and collectively—in shaping the future of the planet. Most of us understand what’s at stake: in polls, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults say global warming is a serious problem. But so many Americans who are able to aren’t voting, talking, driving, and powering their homes like it.

We each have some combination of skills, resources, time, and energy to bring to the table—and a great first step is to find your role in the clean energy transition by visiting the CTA below. It’s time to get off the sidelines and get in the game.

 

WHERE DO I START? ⟶

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States are moving the needle on climate action

November 10, 2021

A Bloomberg study in 2015 found a compelling pattern about how social change happens in the United States. The pattern is this: Throughout history, a few states took the initiative on passing laws about important issues – interracial marriage, women’s suffrage, same-sex marriage, to name a few. Then a key event triggered more states to follow suit, leading to changes in federal laws establishing, for example, people’s right to marry who they love and women’s right to vote.

Could a similar pattern follow for meaningful action on the climate crisis? We hope so.   For years, states and tribal nations have taken the lead on bold climate action. Let’s take a look at both new and long-standing efforts by states to reduce carbon emissions and help the nation transition to a clean energy future – regardless of federal action.

Laws that move states toward 100% clean energy

In July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law that moves the state toward 100% clean energy by 2040, tying with New York for the fastest statewide timeline. Oregon joins 15 other states and U.S. territories that are on a 100% clean or renewable energy path either by legislation or executive order.

As of the passage of this Oregon law, 31 states have adopted renewable portfolio standards and increased those standards over time. These efforts collectively have produced more than 10% of this country’s electricity from renewable sources as of 2019.

State renewable portfolio standards collectively have produced more than 10% of this country’s electricity from renewable sources

In addition to these state governments, tribal nations are also at the forefront of efforts to curb climate change and protect their way of life. Nearly 50 of them have climate action plans in effect across North America, following in the steps of the Swinomish nation in the Pacific Northwest. The Swinomish were the first Native community to create climate adaptation plans, which include plans to protect salmon runs.

Coalitions to support global climate efforts

When the previous federal administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords in 2017, it prompted the formation of several coalitions to support global efforts to slow climate change. Those coalitions include the U.S. Climate Alliance, We Are Still In and America’s Pledge.

A group of 25 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and to keep temperatures below 1.5 degree Celsius. Together these states represent 62% of the U.S. economy, 56% of the U.S. population, and 43% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. These governors are committed to reducing their collective net carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025 and at least by half by 2030 (both below 2005 levels), and achieving overall net-zero emissions no later than 2050.

The US Climate Alliance states represent 62% of the U.S. economy, 56% of the U.S. population, and 43% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions

We Are Still In represents a diverse coalition of 3,900 chief executive officers, mayors, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders, health care executives, and more. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor Jerry Brown created America’s Pledge initiative. The initiative pledges to collect data on climate actions, share findings, and create climate action roadmaps for businesses, cities, and states. These efforts are important because most Americans think the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement.

Regional partnerships

REV Midwest

In October 2021, the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin created a bipartisan plan to build a regional charging network for electric vehicles. REV Midwest is expected to create demand for electric vehicles, and result in improved public health and cleaner air and water. Additionally, the governors expect this plan to spur economic growth with jobs for clean energy manufacturing and to encourage the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

In 2009, an alliance of states formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Today that initiative is made up of 11 Eastern states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. Since its formation, RGGI has decreased its emissions by more than 50%. When it first began, it was only the second program in the world to regulate emissions, inspiring subsequent carbon pricing programs that drew on lessons RGGI learned.

All of these efforts by states are paving the way for federal lawmakers. Perhaps we’re starting to see the first promising signs of meaningful investments to confront the climate crisis with the recently passed infrastructure bill headed to President Biden’s office. That bill includes $47 billion for climate resilience, representing the largest investment the U.S. has ever made to curb the effects of climate change. Now we’ll have to wait and see if Congress passes the reconciliation bill with an even larger investment, $555 billion, to prevent the worst climate change impacts.

Regardless of the outcome of that larger spending bill, it’s clear states have the power to move the needle on climate change regardless of federal action or inaction.

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What the rest of us need to know about COP26

November 10, 2021

As world leaders convened in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26 last week, it emerged that the United Kingdom’s most enduring patch of snow had melted completely. The patch, known as the Sphinx, had disappeared just three times over more than 200 years before the end of the last century. 

This latest melt is the fifth in less than 20 years.

The mythical sphinx, as you may remember from English lit class, killed anyone who could not answer its riddle. The question before attendees at COP26 is less a riddle than a Gordian knot: How do we untangle ourselves from fossil fuels and avert climate disaster? As with the sphinx’s challenge, the price for getting it wrong is extremely high. 

What is COP26?

COP refers to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (You can see why they shortened it.) This year’s event in Glasgow marks the 26th COP, which has taken place annually since 1995. The convention is actually a 1992 treaty that kicked off years of negotiations over the supreme riddle of how to avoid wrecking the climate. The Kyoto Protocol, which legally bound 37 countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, followed in 1995. 

The Kyoto Protocol ran through the end of 2020 after being extended in 2012, but it’s widely seen as a failure. The United States bowed out of it in 2001, and fast-growing China and India were not among the countries with binding targets. At COP21 in 2015, the resulting Paris Agreement set a goal to limit the average global temperature increase to below 2C, preferably 1.5. As part of this, countries submitted their voluntary “nationally determined contributions” toward this goal. At the beginning of this year, the United States officially rejoined the agreement, reversing Donald Trump’s withdrawal.

Why is COP26 important?

Every COP is important, because it’s yet another chance for countries around the world to come together and work on this stubborn problem. It’s important—but does it actually bring change? An Eeyore type might point out that we’ve been at this for over a quarter of a century, yet global emissions are still on the rise. And this year’s G7 summit, a precursor of sorts to the COP26, had some rather underwhelming results.

A perennial sticking point at these negotiations is that, while there are technically 197 Parties at this climate shindig, only a handful of those are really driving up the thermometer. The world’s top 10 emitters, led by China, the United States, and the European Union, are responsible for over two-thirds of all greenhouse gases entering the planet’s atmosphere. So while countries like Vietnam and, say, Estonia might be running almost entirely on fossil fuels, transforming them into clean energy powerhouses like Costa Rica and Iceland isn’t going to be what really moves the needle. The big players need to be the ones to lead change, not least by opening their pocketbooks to fund it. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the countries hardest hit by climate change, poverty, and now the pandemic faced hurdles finding a place to sleep in Glasgow, if they could get to the conference at all.

COP26 certainly isn’t the only chance to deal with these longstanding inequities and make progress on the climate—but it’s a big one. Even though conferences like these may not spark immediate change, they can establish common ground, as the Paris Agreement did. “What happened in the last five years was the transformation of the mindset,” Laurence Tubiana, who helped draft the pact, told TIME in 2020. “The Paris Agreement [became] the norm, the reference for everybody to know where to go.”

We know where to go. The key question remains: How do we get there in time? As Scotland’s Sphinx turned to water, another ominous bulletin surfaced. A new analysis warned that our carbon budget—the amount of warming gases we can send into the air and still stay below 1.5C—will be used up within 11 years. 

The same report noted that some countries, including the United States, managed to achieve emissions declines over the past decade. “These successes can be replicated,” study co-author Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, told The Washington Post. “There is no reason why this cannot be set in motion other than political will.”

So there is part of the answer to the climate riddle, both incredibly simple and dauntingly complicated: political will. John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, wrote in an op-ed last week that COP26 “has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen. In that regard, the summit has already achieved success.”

But of course, we need more than just will and ambition—and let’s not forget, international negotiations have delivered substantial change in the past. After all, the Montreal Protocol in 1987 drove a phaseout of the chlorofluorocarbons that were destroying Earth’s protective ozone layer. And indeed, COP26 so far has yielded pacts to end deforestation and cut methane, two potent contributors to the climate crisis. 

The warming that we have set in motion over decades of fossil fuel use won’t be reversed because of a two-week conference. But talks like COP26 can drive the many solutions that will be needed, including a major ramp-up of renewable energy and of zero-emission cars. Is Kerry premature in touting success at this year’s talks? Stay tuned for our wrap-up at the end of the conference, where we will recap what did—and didn’t—happen.

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Checking in on the state of global climate action

July 14, 2021

Last month, the leaders of the world’s major industrialized nations got together, as they have every year since the early 1970s, to talk about matters of international importance. The pandemic was top of mind at the G7 summit, of course, but so was the climate crisis.

Just days before the summit, scientists had reported a new record for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere—419 parts per million, the highest since accurate measurements began nearly 60 years ago.

The crisis is now impossible to ignore.

The G7, or Group of Seven, consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, their economies comprise nearly half the world’s gross domestic product, about 10 percent of the world’s population, and more than a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions. So, you know, they’re kind of influential when they get together. As the European Commission’s website puts it, “decisions taken at the G7 are not legally binding, but exert strong political influence.”

What went down last month

So, what legally non-binding decisions did the G7 make regarding climate? Here’s the topline summary:

  • Reach net zero emissions no later than 2050
  • Cut collective emissions in half by 2030
  • Increase and improve climate finance over the next few years
  • Conserve or protect at least 30 percent of each nation’s land and oceans by 2030

Depending on whom you ask, this was a pretty good outcome or it was resoundingly lame. The New York Times said the G7 had taken “aggressive climate action.” The Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, which are both nonprofits working on climate change solutions, said the nations had “raised the bar” on climate action.

Others were disappointed and scornful. The summit’s steak barbecue, private jets, and air shows were not a good look for leaders claiming to care about greenhouse gas emissions. The director of Greenpeace called the meeting “very disappointing.” To climate activist Greta Thunberg, the leaders seemed “to be having a good time presenting their empty climate commitments and repeating old unfulfilled promises.” And in a roundup of utterly unimpressed reactions from climate action groups, one commented, “This G7 leaves the success of COP26 on a knife edge.”

This last comment gets to the heart of why the G7 matters. It sets the tone for the next round of international climate talks—the aforementioned COP26. (You could call it the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, but COP26 sounds much snappier, no?)

Patricia Espinosa, the head of the UNFCCC, summed it up this way in a speech shortly before the summit: “Nations are still far from the goals of the Paris Agreement and stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5C by the end of the century….The decisions G7 nations make in the next few weeks will have a major impact on whether nations achieve success at COP26, whether they make a truly green recovery from COVID-19, and if they eventually reach their long-term climate goals under the Paris Agreement.”

“Nations are still far from the goals of the Paris Agreement and stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5C by the end of the century.”

After four years of a climate leadership vacuum under the Trump administration, it’s understandable that any collective climate agreement between the U.S. and other leading nations would draw some applause. As the World Resources Institute and the Times noted, it was the first time the G7 had agreed together to cut their emissions by 2030 and to regularly update their strategies for doing so.

What did the G7 miss?

Fiddling while coal burns. The leaders agreed to stop financing “unabated international thermal coal power generation” by the end of this year. But they didn’t set a date to stop burning coal, period. This is a problem, given that global carbon emissions are set for their second-biggest increase in history, according to the International Energy Agency—driven by coal use. China is still building new coal plants at home and abroad. That’s not likely to change anytime soon while the G7 allows itself an extended runway to coast ahead with the dirtiest fuel.

Show me the money. BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin got straight to the point: “For the umpteenth time the rich club has failed to deliver on its promise to channel $100bn a year to poor nations coping with a heating climate.” That promise was made by developed countries in 2009, acknowledging that transforming our energy systems requires capital that some countries don’t have. It’s time to pay up.

Too much talk, too little action. In general, the big-sounding promises coming out of the G7 summit got the side-eye from environmental groups who noted we have heard a lot of this before. “This summit feels like a broken record of the same old promises,” said John Sauven of Greenpeace UK. “Without agreeing to end all new fossil fuel projects — something that must be delivered this year if we are to limit dangerous rises in global temperature — this plan falls very short.”

Next Steps

COP26 will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12. While change on the international stage can be slow, the world needs concrete actions that feel real: financial commitments, fossil fuel expiration dates, and emissions trend lines that are moving in the right (downward) direction. While most of us won’t be involved in the big talks, the leaders involved are representing all of us. The more loudly we demand clear air and affordable energy for all, the harder it will be to substitute statements for meaningful, immediate steps.

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What the f*** is FERC?

June 16, 2021

If you had to name the most influential American government agencies when it comes to clean energy and climate, you’d probably be able to come up with a few acronyms from the federal alphabet soup: the EPA, the DOE, NOAA. (That would be the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

The list goes on: NASA, NHTSA… and of course, we can’t forget FERC. You know, FERC? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? Yeah, if that one was not right on the tip of your tongue, you’re not alone.

Unless you’re an electric grid operator, your news feed likely isn’t dominated by headlines about FERC and its decisions. But that doesn’t mean the agency isn’t worth your attention. It has a great deal of sway over how, and where, the clean energy transition takes place.

What is FERC, and what does it do?

FERC’s mission, which it puts front and center on its website, is to ensure “economically efficient, safe, reliable, and secure energy for consumers.” Among other tasks, the agency sets policies on how electricity is valued and traded on wholesale markets. It decides whether new interstate gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals can be built. It also licenses and inspects non-federal hydropower projects.

Basically, if electricity, fossil (“natural”) gas, or oil is crossing state lines, FERC likely has something to say about it. The agency is led by up to five presidentially appointed commissioners, no more than three of which can be from the same political party. Recent FERC decisions have related to gas pipeline projects in Louisiana and North Dakota; fees for customers with rooftop solar in Alabama; and the timeline to better integrate electric storage on the grid in the Midwest.

That ’70s Show

When FERC was established in 1977, replacing the Federal Power Commission, computers looked like small, cumbersome televisions, and more than 77 percent of the country’s electricity came from fossil fuels—especially coal.

More than four decades later, fossil fuel’s share of the power mix is down to 60 percent. Renewable energy’s contribution, once confined to hydropower, has doubled to 20 percent, with more than half of that now coming from wind and solar. Today, computers fit into our pockets, and our energy system is also increasingly digital—a fact highlighted by the recent Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, which led to gasoline shortages on the East Coast.

Even 30 years ago, “the times were a lot simpler,” said FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, whom President Joe Biden appointed as FERC chairman, in a 2019 interview. “It was a lot easier to tell what a wholesale transaction was and a retail transaction was, and where distribution facilities stopped and transmission facilities began.”

That’s a fairly wonky way of saying that power used to basically flow one way: From large generation plants across long-distance transmission lines to the distribution system that sends power to homes and businesses.

Enter the Modern Grid

Today’s grid is far more complex. Now power can flow in the opposite direction, from a home or business to the grid, often via rooftop solar panels. Customers can also interact with the electricity system through demand response programs, agreeing to lower energy use at peak times in exchange for some kind of a break on the utility bill.

Another transformation since “simpler times” is in the way electricity gets bought and sold. In the 1990s, many states moved away from the traditional model, where utilities owned both the power plants and the delivery systems. Now, about two-thirds of U.S. customers are served by deregulated markets, where power generators compete at the wholesale level and consumers can choose their retail electricity provider. (The nonprofit Resources for the Future has an excellent electricity markets explainer here.)

And finally, of course, there’s that other big change we’ve been contending with, more urgently than ever: The one that starts with “climate.” In FERC world, it’s not a given that greenhouse gas emissions or environmental impact will factor into any decision—even though the agency is charged with determining whether fossil gas projects are “in the public interest.” That seems kinda relevant to the planet being on fire—no?

Policies for a Clean Electric Grid

Glick and his fellow Democrat on the current commission, Allison Clements, have argued that FERC not only should, but is legally bound to, consider climate change impacts as part of its decision-making process. Until recently, however, the commission has sidestepped that responsibility, greenlighting dozens of pipelines as if climate change didn’t exist. It’s almost like being back in the ’70s, when U.S. public concerns about oil were more centered on how we could get more of it rather than what we were doing to the planet by burning it.

Each commissioner has a five-year term, and Republican Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s tenure expires at the end of this month, though he has suggested that without the confirmation of an expected Democrat successor, he might not exit on time. Regardless of personnel changes in the short term, critics argue that FERC needs to get with the modern age. There have been some encouraging developments: The agency recently did include greenhouse gas emissions, for a change, in its assessment of a proposed pipeline project. It also created and filled a new position, senior counsel for environmental justice, aimed at ensuring its decisions do not unfairly affect historically marginalized communities.

On its blog, the Natural Resources Defense Council outlines other steps FERC can take to accelerate, rather than stall, the clean energy transition. Among them, the agency could update policies that prevent renewable generation resources from participating in capacity markets, where generators are paid to be available in case they are needed. It could also reform transmission planning—decisions about what types of lines are needed, and where, to carry electricity from where it is generated closer to where it is used—to improve delivery of renewable energy.

The part where you come in

There’s another noteworthy update at FERC, and this one directly involves you. The agency is finally establishing an Office of Public Participation, which will provide an avenue for communities to weigh in on what’s happening. If you really want to dive into the issues, the Sustainable FERC Project is a good place to start.