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Could the “Oil and Gas Capital of the World” become the “Renewable Energy Capital of the World?” It depends on if the city is allowed to govern itself.

By Julia Lewis Growing up in Houston, Texas – a city commonly referred to as the “Oil and Gas Capital of the World” – I always thought there was no future for my city other than fossil fuels. Like many Houstonians, my dad worked in oil and gas for almost two decades, and leaving my house I was often reminded to take my inhaler due to the fumes rising above the skyline. In 2017, I watched as my city was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and I spent the first two weeks of 8th grade mucking out the ruined houses of my friends and neighbors instead of going to school.  Recently, something else has happened in my home state. Renewable energy generation has boomed across Texas, to the point that it is the top wind energy-producing state in the country and is second only to California in solar production. The City of Houston also passed its Climate Action Plan in 2020, and for the first time, I wondered if maybe a different, cleaner future was possible for my home. This year’s legislative session at the Texas Capital proved otherwise. Clean energy investments – which mean more jobs and less pollution – are becoming more common by the day. Because of this, the fossil fuel industry and its Republican allies at the Capital have done their best to thwart this growth. Anti-climate politicians, especially state legislators, have been attacking clean energy development through the passage of preemption laws.  Preemption is ultimately a fight about which level of government gets to make certain decisions. Preemption laws allow a higher level of government, like a state legislature, to revoke or limit the governing power of a lower level of government, like a City Council. While these laws could be used to incentivize the development of clean energy, we are seeing a pattern of Republican-controlled state legislatures weaponizing preemption to restrict local climate leadership and even civic engagement. Preemption laws such as these do not solve existing problems, but instead, create new problems by stopping or restricting local governments from passing policies that would serve their communities.  A great example of this strategy can be seen in Texas House Bill 17, a piece of legislation passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on May 18, 2021. This law restricts the ability of counties, cities, and towns to regulate utility services and infrastructure based on the energy source. This means that local governments working on building electrification, for example, cannot transition away from natural gas appliances and heating.  Preemption laws haven’t just been focused on energy, though. This year, the Texas legislature has proved that any policy and debate-of-the-day can be on the table. At a time when the state’s electric grid is unstable, public schools are critically underfunded, roads are deteriorating, water supply is unreliable, and gun violence is making national headlines, Texas lawmakers focused on ripping apart voting rights. Senate Bill 1933, signed by Abbott on June 18, 2023, allows the secretary of state (an Abbott appointee) to take over elections in Harris County if they prove to have “good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration exists in the county.” The bill originally applied to all Texas counties but was amended to only apply to those with a population of over four million–a qualification that applies only to Harris County. This is a clear attempt to target the largest county in Texas (third largest county in the US) and the county that contains the most diverse city in the country. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo criticized the bill, describing it as  “a shameless power grab and dangerous precedent.”  It’s easy to see how preemption legislation can be weaponized to limit voting rights and our ability to fight climate change. In fact, climate and voting rights go hand in hand. SB1933 will likely decrease voter turnout and increase voter apathy. This gives anti-climate politicians the advantage and jeopardizes climate action should climate champions lose at the ballot box. Because of this, climate activists are the first to make a stand on protecting voting rights. In fact, when President Trump was attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, it was climate activists who led the creation of the Houston Election Defenders Coalition to raise awareness about what was happening and lobby our elected officials to protect our voting rights.  Texas is far from the only state to target localities through preemption laws. Florida’s state government has practically made preemption its favorite strategy. In an effort to slow the progress of clean energy, the Florida Legislature passed HB839 in 2021, a bill preventing local governments from banning gas stations (which is not and has never been an issue in Florida). The law also prevents local governments from requiring electric vehicle charging stations by fuel retailers, complicating the electrification of the transportation sector. In addition to this bill, the legislature passed HB919, which, similar to HB17 in Texas, blocks municipalities from banning natural gas in new buildings. This inhibits the ability of localities to participate in the energy transition and even opens up the possibility of lawsuits if they try to move away from using fracked gas.  Preemption bills such as these have become increasingly common in Republican state legislatures. They are part of an effort to increase state oversight and counteract progressive laws passed in large cities. In their most extreme form, preemption bills remove the ability for cities to govern themselves. When HB2127 goes into effect on September 1st, despite being advertised as “relief”, municipalities in Texas will be prohibited from passing city ordinances or regulations that conflict with existing state policy. This means that cities can’t be a voice for marginalized communities, provide workplace protections for labor, or even revitalize underutilized city lots. It is easy to see how bills like these threaten our democracy and have the power to seriously impact the energy transition.  Harris County

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Democracy and Climate: More Connected Than We Think

By Sophie Donnellan It is near impossible to avoid the climate crisis in our daily lives. Phrases like “the world is going to end” and “climate apocalypse” get tossed around on social media, in the news, and even in everyday conversation with friends and family. As a young person, being surrounded by this rhetoric can lead to feelings of climate anxiety and uncertainty toward my future. I simply cannot imagine what my life will look like in 20 or 30 years when our world may surpass projected tipping points of climate disaster. Too many of my friends have told me they also feel helpless toward such a large problem. This leads me to think about what meaningful action I can take to fight for our future. One way in which I am empowered to make a difference is through voting. As a new voter, climate change is a large priority for me in local and state elections, and I am not alone. In fact, climate is increasingly becoming a top issue for young voters across the nation. But what happens when democracy disappears? In many U.S. states, the right to vote is becoming less and less accessible, thanks to a recent surge of voter ID requirements and limits on mail-in ballots. Even worse, these anti-voting laws often disproportionately target communities of color – the same communities that systemically experience extreme heat and less livable conditions in America’s cities. In the 2021-2022 legislative session across 26 states, the Climate Cabinet National Bill List found that 30 state-level bills introduced and recognized by lawmakers restricted ballots and voter access. This includes states like Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan – three so-called “battleground” states for state and federal elections. Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the recent legislation that was introduced in these three states. Arizona Following the 2020 presidential election which saw Democrats win statewide for the first time since 1992, the Arizona Legislature introduced several bills to curtail voting rights in the state. To begin, Senate Bill 1003 (passed in 2021) requires election officials to resolve mail ballots with missing signatures – otherwise known as “ballot curing” – by Election Day, discarding the previous five day post-Election Day period. Other legislation that undermined long-standing Arizona election law included Senate Bill 1485, which removed the “Permanent” part of Arizona’s Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) – a policy that an upwards of 80% Arizonans use. Additionally, Senate Bill 1241 requires ballots with mismatched signatures to be sent to the Office of the Attorney General for potential investigation, another attempt at voter suppression, and Senate Bill 1713 requires voters submitting early ballots to include an additional form of identification, making early voting harder to access. These are only a handful of the many bills that recently made their way through the Arizona legislature, signifying a democracy crisis in the state. Wisconsin Wisconsin also recently faced a series of disenfranchising legislation following the 2020 presidential election. Policy like Assembly Bill 173 would have created barriers for grants that primarily focus on voter turnout in urban communities. Legislation like Senate Bill 203, would have limited absentee voting access, and Senate Bill 212, would have restricted county clerks from fixing defective absentee ballot certificates – effectively increasing the number of rejected ballots. Absentee voting removes obstacles to voting such as lack of transportation and work or family responsibilities, making it a vital component of democracy. Had it not been for Governor Tony Evers’s veto (or threat of), these anti-voting bills would have become law – a clear sign of the Wisconsin Legislature’s anti-democracy priorities. Michigan Finally, several anti-voting bills were introduced in the Michigan Legislature following the 2020 presidential election, before Democrats won chamber control in Michigan. Many of these bills were passed by their respective chambers, but then were vetoed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This includes House Bill 4127, which would have required thousands of voters to re-verify their identity in order to remain on the qualified voter file and Senate Bill 303, which would have required voters to submit identification with absentee ballot applications while removing the option for voting by signed affidavit, thereby eliminating options for election day voting. Again, like Wisconsin, Governor Whitmer’s vetoes kept these bills from becoming law, but they are a clear example of how out of touch some State Legislatures are with young voters’ priorities. Climate Implications How do anti-democratic laws impact the fight against climate change?  Disenfranchising voters diminishes overall turnout for elections up-and-down the ticket. Climate action is overwhelmingly popular among Americans, even more so than we may realize, so restrictions on the right to vote limit opportunities for civic engagement to advance the fight against climate change. In order to fight for a livable future, our nation’s voting laws must remain free and fair. Now is the time to take action. 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record globally.  Arizona specifically is experiencing unprecedented heat waves. In midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin, poor air quality has become the new normal this summer, as a result of climate change-induced wildfires. But with many new barriers to voting and threats of disenfranchisement, it becomes harder for those experiencing the effects of climate change in these states to express their concerns through voting. Every U.S. citizen can start by taking simple steps to combat disenfranchisement. First, learn about your state legislators: who they are and how they vote. You can reach out to your state representatives to let them know how important the issues of climate change and democracy are to you. Finally, show up to Election Day prepared. Research any changes to voting requirements your state may have recently undergone, and prepare accordingly to ensure you have eligibility to vote in your state election. Together, we have the power to make a difference. If more of us participate in our local and state elections, we can protect both our democracy and our planet.

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How State and Local Leaders Leverage Inflation Reduction Act for a Cleaner, Safer Future

Climate Cabinet Education, the go-to resource for state and local climate policy, released the following backgrounder to the media that highlights how state and local leaders are leveraging the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) historic climate investments – an effort that has created more than 170,000 clean energy jobs in 44 states.  As the media continues to share how the Biden Administration’s climate law is delivering new jobs, cutting utility costs for families, and lowering pollution rates, this background document is intended to spotlight specific examples about how the law is fighting the climate crisis in all areas of the nation. This includes in rural, suburban, and urban communities and for areas perceived as conservative and progressive.  Take a look at how policymakers are leveraging the Inflation Reduction Act:  ARIZONA: Arizona Office of Resiliency Project: When Governor Katie Hobbs took office, one of her first directives was to create the Office of Resiliency, a state energy office necessary to unlock millions in Inflation Reduction Act and other federal program funding. While originally the office just consisted of the Director and energy, land use, and water policy advisors, unlocked federal funding has allowed the office to hire an additional six full-time employees working to implement Inflation Reduction Act programs promoting clean energy infrastructure, electric appliances, energy efficiency, and more.  COLORADO: Colorado Springs, Colorado Project: Mayor Yemi Mobolade leveraged IRA funds for a new solar cell plant. The solar cell production facility is getting $1.4 billion in IRA funding, creating 380 new jobs in Colorado Springs. Mayor Yemi Mobolade: “Meyer Burger has stated that the fastest possible market entry is important. Don’t worry, we got you covered — our city’s rapid response service is ready for this project” INDIANA Project: AES is building an Indiana battery storage at a retired coal plant. The utility is using the site of their retiring coal plant for battery storage. The project, Pike County Energy Storage, will utilize the IRA’s Investment Tax Credit to cover an estimated 40% of the project cost. Local governments now have access to these same tax credits thanks to the IRA’s updated eligibility rules for Direct Pay.  IOWA: Ames, Iowa Project: The City of Ames published an analysis of their Climate Action Plan, predicting the Inflation Reduction Act would reduce the net cost of their Climate Action Plan—which invests in energy efficiency, building retrofits, battery storage, rooftop solar and EVs—from $900 million down to $300 million. Graphic shows IRA savings for Ames Climate Action Plan implementation, by category.  From City of Ames Climate Action Plan: Supplemental Input Committee on Implementation Report KENTUCKY: Bowling Green, Kentucky Project: Kentucky was one of four states in the country to refuse the Environmental Protection Agency’s $3 million grant for Climate Pollution Reduction projects, so the opportunity was then provided to Bowling Green—which qualified as the third largest community in the state. The City Council voted unanimously to pursue the funds. The City’s Public Works Department would be the recipient of the grant and is accepting input from their community for ways the funding could be used to lower pollution. MINNESOTA: Minnesota Legislature Project: Signed into law by Governor Tim Walz, The State Competitiveness Fund will use $156 million to help connect state, local, and tribal communities as well as electric cooperatives and utilities with non-federal matching dollars needed to access funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law. This increases total funding on the table and increases access to create clean energy projects throughout the state.  WASHINGTON: Washington State Legislature Project: House Bill 1777, a bill that allows energy saving projects at public schools to be funded by private entities which can leverage funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, was passed unanimously in the legislature, garnering support from Republicans and Progressive Dems alike. Schools typically spend a significant budget on utility bills. Other Potential IRA Implementation Opportunities Columbia, Missouri: Columbia, Missouri and its municipal utility – Columbia Water and Light –  are owners of a retired coal plant and ash pond site, which is eligible to receive loans under the IRA’s Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment Financing. This, plus taking advantage of Direct Pay investment tax credits, gives Columbia a prime opportunity to invest in battery storage at their retired plant site with the help of federal funds. Read more about this opportunity on our blog! Seattle and King County, Washington: These two government organizations have been partnering on a transit electrification project over the last few years, looking to convert the county’s bus fleets to electric vehicles. The project could be eligible for a number of the IRA’s tax credits and grants. More info on this partnership can be found on our blog.

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Climate Cabinet Bill List: Bills Trends & Top-Line Analysis

By Nick Arnold, Legislative Program Manager The 2021-2022 Climate Cabinet Bill List consists of 476 bills across 26 states focused on the top climate, environmental justice, and democracy legislation in the United States. To build this list, Climate Cabinet Education does two things: first, we collaborate with on-the-ground state partner organizations about the top environmental legislation facing their state. Then, we narrow those lists to our priority criteria – climate & democracy – and categorize them into energy, buildings, transportation, environmental justice, ballots & voter access, and preemption & power grabs. This process allows us to take a closer look at national and cross-state trends, see which states are taking action on each of these issues, and – based on state partner input – assess each bill as pro- or anti-climate. The legislative process is often confusing or too time-intensive to follow for the people who are affected by it most: constituents. The Climate Cabinet Bill List is one tool to help make this process more accessible and help Americans understand what’s going on issues like climate and democracy in their state legislature. While this data represents 476 bills, the total number in the charts is greater than that. That’s because these issues don’t exist in siloes, there are plenty of bills that address energy, buildings, and transportation through a preemption or power grab policy change.  Similarly, many energy bills also touch on environmental justice, transportation, and buildings. Energy From the national landscape, it’s clear the biggest area of climate legislation is energy, with a total of 130 bills included from 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions – including a mix of bills that are pro-climate and anti-climate. Everything from defining what counts as clean energy (e.g. Senate Bill 896 in Florida, which sought to define landfill and factory farm gas as “renewable”) to whether electric service should be competitive (e.g. House Bill 2101 in Arizona, which repealed retail electric competition) is showing up in state legislatures and influencing the future of our electric grid. All 26 states heard at least 1 energy bill in 2021-2022. Under the umbrella of decarbonization, we also keep an eye on legislation affecting the future of buildings and transportation, with a total of 34 and 116 bills respectively. While many think of electricity generation as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s actually only 25% of U.S. emissions, coming in second to transportation at 28% with commercial and residential uses (largely buildings) at 13% (U.S. EPA). Transportation Public transit and electrifying light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles are the best ways to reduce emissions in the transportation sector. State legislatures regularly invest in large infrastructure projects, but often money for transit comes from the same pool as money for roads and highways. Out of the 58 bills on transportation nationally, the biggest piece of pro-climate transportation legislation is adopting California’s Clean Car Standards, a more stringent requirement than the current federal standards. Minnesota and New York worked to adopt updated standards while Virginia heard bills working to roll back Clean Cars, which ultimately failed. Electric vehicle (EV) planning and accessibility are also big features of transportation bills. This ranges from policies to support EV charging station installation and access (e.g. Nevada’s Senate Bill 448 which, among many other clean energy transition policies, increases access to EV chargers) to bills directing state agencies to develop a plan for the higher EV use future (e.g. Arizona’s Senate Bill 1152), including electrifying state fleets (Virginia’s Senate Bill 575). Buildings We say 17 bills about buildings ranging from proactive climate policy supporting energy efficiency that helps reduce emissions (e.g. House Bill 1286 in Colorado that establishes building energy performance standards) to anti-climate policy like blocking local governments’ ability to help the transition from gas to electric appliances (e.g. House Bill 220 in North Carolina, which is also a preemption bill that prevents municipalities from establishing electric-only building ordinances).   Housing affordability and how housing units are developed is increasingly a priority for climate policy because on top of the urgency of solving the housing crisis, climate-minded development offers long-term cost-savings and emissions reduction benefits by prioritizing energy and water efficiency. Pairing requirements for efficiency with incentives for dense, affordable housing can help address both housing and climate with one policy. Bills like New Mexico’s House Bill 15 expands and extends the Sustainable Building Tax Credit do just that. Environmental Justice Historically marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by environmental harms like air and water pollution. Environmental justice (EJ) legislation, like the 77 bills in the National Bill List, helps repair these historic harms and ensure access to clean air and clean water, among other equity issues. Colorado, Oregon, and Illinois are at the forefront of these issues, each hearing eight or nine pro-climate bills each ranging from Colorado’s funding for just transition for coal-impacted communities (House Bill 1290, which allocates a combined $15 million to the just transition fund including coal worker transition assistance funding), connecting disadvantaged youth to outdoor recreation opportunities (House Bill 1318, which creates an annual $3 million fund that can take private donations for outdoor youth programs), and targeted air and water quality regulations to ensure access to clean air and water for marginalized communities (Senate Bill 193, which funds electric school buses and e-bikes to reduce transportation emissions, and House Bill 1322, which requires impacted community engagement to hold water polluters accountable). Similarly, Illinois passed its landmark Climate and Equity Jobs Act (CEJA) in 2021 that provides a structure for equitable, good-paying jobs to achieve a 100% clean energy goal. Oregon’s EJ bills cover a broad range of topics including community-based energy (House Bill 2021, which among other policy calls for utility support and studying of community-based energy systems), electric vehicles (House Bill 2165, which extends EV programs and adds incentives for low-income customers), and home improvements for efficiency and electrification to make homes healthier (House Bill 2842, which created the Healthy Homes Program).     Protest, Preemption, & Power Grabs One trend we

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Affordable Housing = Fighting Climate Change

Affordable housing is a climate solution.  On surface level, that statement may give folks some pause. But when you take a deeper look into the nuts and bolts on the issue of housing, the opportunity for climate action is as large as the mansions you see on television.  But, this chance for action starts with acknowledging the overall problem every state and city has: there are a lot of families with too few affordable housing options available to them.   The fact is, the United States is in the midst of a dire housing crisis – particularly among low-income renters. Low-and-moderate income (LMI) and extremely low-income (ELI) households are too often faced with very few affordable living opportunities. In fact, about 70-percent of ELI households spend more than half of their incomes on rent alone. And communities where single-family housing and parking lots make up a majority of land use practically eliminate affordable housing options for many of these families.  The opportunities that do exist often fall in neighborhoods where high pollution is prevalent. Affordable housing is often too outdated, fails to provide necessary tree cover, and does not meet modern clean energy or efficiency standards. Because many of these units are in poor quality – including but not limited to thin walls and deteriorating roofs with little insulation – too many tenants have unsustainably high utility bills and live in buildings not equipped for clean energy or electrification upgrades. Nationally, housing accounts for nearly 40-percent of energy consumption, responsible for about thirteen-percent of carbon dioxide emissions, making housing a critical sector in our clean energy transition.  Simply put: In order to reduce building emissions and ensure adequate housing needs for all, state and local governments must invest in affordable housing, building upgrades, and electrification. In addition to updating the existing building landscape, it’s a win-win for climate and affordable energy if state and local governments electrify new building construction – particularly affordable housing units. Electrification can help lower both costs and emissions. And the best part: there are existing tools that climate leaders can use to accomplish these goals.  For starters, property owners and construction companies can leverage the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) electrification tax credits and rebates. These tax credits reduce the total cost of building upgrades and electric appliances, and the rebates provide discounts for LMI households for home electric projects. While these resources can be easily accessible for property owners, renter-property owner dynamics unfortunately remain a significant barrier.   Additional federal programs exist to help residents upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). States can help maximize these federal dollars as well, like Virginia is doing through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In its first year participating in the RGGI program, the Commonwealth generated about $114 million in revenue to help provide low-income households with safe, affordable, and energy-efficient homes. The program has been a resounding success, saving low-income households about 20-percent in utility costs when combined with additional federal assistance.  Local governments also have a role to play in this effort. In March, Climate Cabinet Education released a guidebook to help municipal leaders maximize the IRA’s historic climate investments. Doing this transition allows cities, utilities, and individuals to use clean energy resources that would reduce monthly costs for families. Local elected leaders – like city councils – can leverage these dollars, and in turn, help homeowners access these benefits too.  Beyond solutions to address the existing building infrastructure, state and local leaders can also revisit zoning codes and land-use policies to create more affordable housing opportunities, such as multi-unit “middle” housing in areas previously zoned exclusively for single-family households. Reducing lot sizes or parking minimums can also open doors for more housing supply and affordable housing opportunities. Denser urban centers can also provide a win-win for neighborhoods by connecting affordable housing with alternative modes of transportation – like walking, biking, and public transit – in these larger cities. This helps to reduce transportation pollution and shorten commute times, which has been shown to be the number one indicator of upward mobility potential for LMI communities.    Finally, state and local governments can make use of the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF) for their affordable housing needs. This program provides grants that allows states to build, renovate, or preserve housing opportunities for ELI households. Combined with the IRA’s tax credits and rebates, these properties could transition to 100% clean energy.  No one part of the nation is immune from this housing crisis – no matter the zip code. Coastal communities have the same needs as landlocked states. The nation’s largest cities and its most rural towns have equally failed to meet demand.  There are solutions each community can use to meet their own specific affordable housing needs, and once implemented, they’ll be fighting the climate crisis in the process.