PDF | Free | 18 pages
Download PDF

American Federalism and Climate Change

Policy Options

Barry G. Rabe and Christopher P. Borick

May 2011, English

In this paper, Barry G. Rabe and Christopher P. Borick analyze intergovernmental relations in handling environmental legislation in the United States by reviewing policy proposals introduced during the 111th Congress. Based on the results of the 2008 and 2009 National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, they also present some public views on intergovernmental responsibilities for climate policy. They argue that legislative debates on climate change in the United States seldom pay enough attention to the roles of different levels of government. Between 1975 and 2009, there were 479 congressional hearings on climate change, but few of them acknowledged the importance of state, regional, and local climate policy development. For example, the proposal of a federal cap-and-trade policy calls for a full preemption of existing emissions trading programs at the state and regional levels. Other federal initiatives also show the absence of any state, regional, and local partnership across government levels.

Although there seems to be a lack of policy coordination between federal and subfederal levels of government, regional cooperation among states exists. For example, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is a partnership of seven western states and four Canadian provinces. Other clusters of states have undertaken environmental policy initiatives, including (1) mandates for renewable or lowcarbon transportation fuels; (2) surcharges on electricity consumption; (3) review of carbon emissions as part of state siting reviews for electricity-generating and large manufacturing plants; and (4) state oversight of local land use planning decisions. This policy development underscores the importance of state, regional, and local regulations in future U.S. environmental policies.

To examine whether the existing governance structure matches the public preferences, the authors analyzed the results of a public opinion survey and found support for a multilevel governance approach to climate policy. In the 2009 survey, only 10 percent of respondents felt that federal and state governments have no responsibility in this area. The public also seemed more receptive to higher state emissions standards than to federal standards. In addition, survey respondents disapproved of the use of federal preemption powers to eliminate existing state policies, with the exception of increased gasoline taxes and setting fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. There was also more support for cap and trade than for a carbon tax.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s Land Policy Conference of 2010 and is Chapter 15 of the book Climate Change and Land Policies.


Climate Mitigation, Environment, Land Use, Land Use Planning, Legal Issues, Local Government, Planning, Public Policy, Regionalism