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Using Broader Range of State Laws To Address Climate Change Is Cheaper, More Effective Than Energy Taxes and Emissions Trading Alone

December 2000

The international negotiations held in The Hague on specific means to implement the Kyoto Protocol ended without agreement on November 25, in part because of U.S. concern over costs of complying with the global warming treaty. But legal tools that states are already using have considerable potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a relatively low cost, according to an article in the November 2000 issue of ELR® – The Environmental Law Reporter®, published by the Environmental Law Institute® (ELI). The article, Moving the Climate Change Debate From Models to Proposed Legislation: Lessons From State Experience, was written by Professor John Dernbach and the students who participated in the Widener University Law School Seminar on Global Warming.

“Public debate about these costs has been based on economic studies assuming that the United States will rely on an energy tax and international emissions trading to implement the Kyoto Protocol," said Dernbach. "Yet these are only two of dozens of different legal tools that are available to states or the federal government.”

By including these other tools in national legislation to address global warming, the article declares, the United States could achieve more benefits at a lower cost than is commonly believed. These other tools include energy conservation provisions in building codes, tax credits for renewable energy and energy conservation, customer choice of electricity providers, laws allowing electricity customers with solar collectors or windmills to sell excess electricity to local utilities, and laws requiring a steady increase in the use of renewable energy.

Such laws also foster economic growth by promoting energy conservation and renewable energy, reduce other air pollutants, help create jobs, and foster technological innovation, the article shows. In fact, these non-greenhouse benefits are significant enough to “likely equal or even exceed” the benefits in reducing greenhouse gases.

Many of these tools, particularly those requiring energy conservation, also return more in savings than they cost, the article said. The energy conservation provisions in California’s building code and other laws have saved at least $15.8 billion. The article cites a government study concluding that “cost-effective energy efficiency alone can take the nation 30 to 50 percent of the way” to meeting U.S. goals under the Protocol.

This is obviously a different picture than that painted by those opposing action to address climate change," the article concludes. Because a program using a “suite of laws can be drafted precisely to avoid particular problems and solve others, such an approach is more likely to achieve multiple benefits and reduce the costs of responding to climate change than the narrow laws’ uses assumed in economic models.”

The Widener seminar looked at the extent to which legal tools used by states could effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each student wrote a paper about one of these tools for eventual publication as part of the article.

For press copies of Moving the Climate Change Debate From Models to Proposed Legislation: Lessons From State Experience contact pressrequest@eli.org.