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farm gas as “renewable”) to whether electric service should be competitive (e.g. House Bill 2101 in Arizona, which repealed retail electric competition) is showing up in state legislatures and influencing the future of our electric grid.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 saw is a type of anti-climate bill we like to call power grabs – 24 bills voted on nationwide. These power grabs are often in the form of preemption or limiting other governments’ ability to pass or implement policy, but they also include the right to protest. These bills range from limits to protest (Florida’s House Bill 1, which increases penalties for peaceful protest) to trying to control who regulates utilities (Arizona’s House Bill 2248, which would’ve stripped the utility regulator, the Corporation Commission, of their longstanding authority over energy generation). These bills undermine the balance of power across governments and suppress the rights of protestors trying to impact policy outcomes.


Ballot & Voter Access

Bills affecting democracy are a factor in climate policy and advocacy and a big topic in legislatures with 47 bills heard across 26 states. An overwhelming majority of Americans want to see action on climate change and clean energy, and the right to vote and access to democratic participation is fundamental to American values and to achieving the policy outcomes the American people want. 

 

States like Arizona and Wisconsin heard the most anti-democracy bills, ranging from making it harder to vote by mail (Arizona’s Senate Bill 1485, which changes the Permanent Early Voter List to an Active list where people can be removed after not voting in only two elections), to limiting grant funding sources that increase voter participation and accessibility (Wisconsin’s Assembly Bill 173, which creates barriers to grant funding). Climate action requires a strong, inclusive democracy and many of the bills under the ballot and voter access category are anti-climate because they undermine democratic principles. 

 

Conclusion

 

Climate action is a big umbrella with many different types of policy. The Climate Cabinet Bill List allows us to dive into the top climate bills and see what is happening both within and across state lines, building the bigger picture on how legislatures are dealing the climate crisis.