THE BLOG

States Throwing Shade in the Fight Against Climate Change

05/03/2016 05:11 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

The Paris Climate Agreement may lack the teeth to take a big enough bite out of greenhouse gas pollution to forestall catastrophic climate change, but what it does have is more than 175 countries signed onto the idea that now's the time for climate action. What would it take for our 50 states to do the same?

For starters President Obama must take immediate, aggressive action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means halting new oil and gas leases on public lands to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But the battle to curb climate change isn't restricted to international and federal arenas; states can have a significant influence in how quickly we shift from fossil fuels to renewables. And right now states' commitments to climate action are all over the map, from Clean Power Plan commitments to renewable energy incentive programs. Some states are even actively getting in the way of solar development that could play a central role in getting us to a brighter energy future.

The Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, just released a new report highlighting sunny states that should be leading the way in the solar revolution but are instead lagging, through weak, nonexistent or, in some cases, counterproductive energy policies.

Together the 10 states featured in Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Development account for more than one-third of the rooftop solar potential in the lower 48 states. Unfortunately, they're underachieving, some in downright outrageous ways.

On top of the irony of the Sunshine State failing to live up to its solar power potential, Florida is one of the country's fastest-growing states, adding about 1,000 people every day. Rooftop solar should be a key part of its plan to provide power without destroying what wild spaces it has left, especially because the state is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts like sea-level rise. But rather than throwing everything it can into distributed solar development, the state is throwing shade with almost none of the key policies needed to encourage rooftop solar expansion.

Florida isn't alone. Everything is bigger in Texas -- except, apparently, its ambition to lead on distributed solar energy. Texas already met its uninspiring renewable portfolio standard goal back in 2010 -- 15 years ahead of schedule -- and no tangible improvements to the standard have been made since. And in Michigan, which has surprisingly high rooftop solar potential for a northern, wintry state, lawmakers have recently chosen not to capitalize on the potential of a growing industry with solar-friendly policies but instead to try to redefine renewable energy to include burning tires.

The Throwing Shade report is about more than not making the grade by failing to adopt successful energy policies that already exist in other states. It's about failing to advance energy sources that could benefit communities and wildlife; failing to embrace an industry that could provide well-paying jobs and homegrown energy without the health and environmental consequences of dirty fossil fuels; and failing to jump into the fight against climate change with everything our states have to offer at a time when action is needed more urgently than ever.

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