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State-Level Decarbonization Lags Behind

With Donald Trump in office, the struggle against climate change may be up to the states. But are even the greenest states doing enough, especially as they continue shuttering nuclear plants?
February 3, 2017, 6am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Anthony Hall

While state governments, California's in particular, offer up fighting words to the Trump administration on climate, Eduardo Porter says they aren't doing enough. "California is far from providing the leadership needed in the battle against climate change. Distracted by the competing objective of shuttering nuclear plants that still produce over a fifth of its zero-carbon power, the state risks failing the main environmental challenge of our time."

Citing a Brookings study ranking U.S. states by their decarbonization progress, Porter writes, "Despite its aggressive deployment of wind turbines and solar panels, the carbon intensity of California's economy — measured by the CO2 emissions per unit of economic product — declined by only 26.6 percent between 2000 and 2014. That put it in 28th place." Per person, California's carbon emissions were the third lowest in 2014, behind only Washington D.C. and New York.

Efforts to decarbonize have thus far tackled the lowest-hanging fruit: coal. "Most of the gains in the United States have come relatively easily, not from the deployment of renewables but from the wholesale switch from coal to cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Much of that transition has played itself out, however." In light of sluggish decarbonization efforts, Porter questions recent state-level decisions to close nuclear generating stations.

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Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 in The New York Times
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