Environment America releases 2020 state legislative agenda priorities

Media Contacts
Ross Sherman

Priorities include ramping up renewable energy, decarbonizing transportation

Environment America

DENVER — State affiliates of Environment America, a national nonpartisan advocacy group, delivered meaningful progress on several environmental and public health issues in 2019. But given the obstacles that still exist at the federal level on those issues and more, states will have to continue to lead in 2020.

“As was the case in 2019, much of the progress we’ll see in 2020 on the most important environmental issues will happen in the states,” said Ed Johnson, president of Environment America. “Whether it’s slashing emissions from our cars and trucks, transitioning more of our cities and states to 100 percent renewable energy, or reducing plastic waste, we need state and local governments to continue forging ahead.”

Here is a roundup of the top issues and bills that Environment America’s 29 state affiliates will be working on across the country this coming year:

Addressing the plastic pollution crisis. 2019 saw a flurry of meaningful state action to reduce single-use plastics. Looking ahead to this year, Environment California is again supporting the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which would reduce packaging and foodware waste by 75 percent by 2030. The state legislature did not vote on the bill during the 2019 session, but Environment California will work to get it passed in 2020.

Environment Maine will look to build upon its lobbying that led to a ban on polystyrene (commonly referred to as Styrofoam) containers and plastic bags in 2019. The goal is to create similar restrictions on other forms of plastic, including straws and lids, and pass a bill that will shift the responsibility of managing waste disposal from consumers to packaging producers. Maryland, which also banned polystyrene in 2019, aims to pass its own ban on plastic bags. Environment Maryland will also be pushing for a “request only” law for straws at restaurants, and a ban on single-use plastic toiletry bottles in hotels. Nearby, Environment New Jersey will press for the passage of the nation’s strongest plastic reduction bill, which would ban plastic bags, polystyrene and plastic straws. 

Elsewhere, Environment North Carolina is supporting bans on polystyrene and plastic bags, and Environment Oregon and Colorado are working toward a polystyrene ban. Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin affiliates will also advocate for statewide bans on polystyrene cups and to-go containers.

In addition, Environment Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin will push for giving communities the ability to address plastic pollution by nullifying preemption laws that don’t let local jurisdictions create stricter restrictions than what the state imposes. Environment Missouri will also be backing the introduction of a bill to repeal that state’s plastic bag ban preemption laws, and simultaneously, will be fighting a bill that would expand preemption. 

Beyond preemption, Environment Michigan is supporting legislation to expand the state’s bottle recycling bill, which covers bottled water, tea, sports drinks and other non carbonated beverages, and implements universal return.

At the local level, Environment Georgia will work to convince more cities, universities and school boards to ban single-use plastics. Environment Montana will also encourage additional cities including Missoula to take action to limit unnecessary single-use plastics, and work with businesses to encourage reusable alternatives. 

The Right to Repair movement, which aims to let consumers fix their own stuff and reduce electronic waste, was a vibrant force in 2019. In 2020, as many as 20 states will consider passing repair legislation. Environment America affiliates in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri are all making the issue a priority.

Continuing the momentum toward a 100% Renewable Energy society. Currently, six states have made commitments to powering their electric grids with 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades. In 2020, Environment America staff in California, Maine and New Mexico will be defending and building on their 100 percent renewable energy laws, which have come under attack since being enacted. In the race to be next, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia will be introducing and working on statewide 100 percent legislation in the coming year, and Oregon is supporting a ballot measure to get the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

At the local level, following Environment Georgia’s successful lobbying in Atlanta and Athens, the affiliate will be homing in on other big cities, including Savannah, to achieve 100 percent renewable commitments.

Solar power will also be at the top of the agenda in 2020. California recently reached one million solar roofs, but Environment California will be working toward a more ambitious five million goal. In Maine, the effort will focus on passing legislation to require solar panels on all government-owned buildings. Environment Florida will also push for community solar programs, as well as increased energy storage capacity.

Enacting legislation to construct offshore wind farms will be a priority for state affiliates in California, Maine and North Carolina.

Environment New Mexico will prioritize supporting policies to improve energy efficiency in low income communities and modernize the electricity grid.

Decarbonizing the transportation sector. Emissions from transportation are the number one contributor to global warming in the United States, and our state affiliates will look to tackle that issue in 2020. Environment California is calling for: every bus in the state and half of California’s trucks to be electric by 2030; a goal and a plan for implementing one million charging stations by 2030; eliminating 50,000 of the dirtiest cars from the road; and free public transit for students. 

In the first two weeks of the new year, New Jersey has an opportunity to pass one of the most ambitious electric vehicle laws in the country. The bill would electrify the state’s busiest roadways with fast-charging electric charging stations; create tiered consumer rebates for the purchase of electric vehicles; and commit to a plan to electrify the New Jersey Transit bus fleet by 2040 and fully transition to all-electric transit buses by 2030.

Environment New Mexico is looking to ensure that its state adopts California’s low emission vehicle (LEV) and zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standards. Environment Virginia is also prioritizing the adoption of the ZEV standard and will work to get the Commonwealth to participate in the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional partnership aiming to reduce transportation emissions.

When it comes to electric vehicles, Florida wants to ensure that the money provided by the federal settlement with Volkswagen goes toward new electric car charging stations, cleaner engines for school buses and public transit, and technology to decrease emissions from airport vehicles, tug boats and trains. Environment Maine is also supporting a bill to expand electric buses. Environment New Mexico will support policies to enact an electric vehicle tax credit, install more charging stations, and encourage cities to purchase electric buses. In Wisconsin, Environment America’s state affiliate will aim to convince state leaders to commit to a plan to electrify all of the state’s vehicle fleet. The group will also promote electric vehicle charging stations in cities and towns across Wisconsin. 

Advocating for global warming solutions and cleaner air. Along with the aforementioned renewable energy and transportation efforts, states will work to pass legislation, participate in regional carbon-cutting efforts, and sue polluters to further tackle climate emissions.

In February, Environment Oregon will lobby state legislators to pass a strong climate bill through a cap-and-invest program. Environment Virginia will urge state officials to officially join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among New England and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce emissions from the power sector.  

To tackle oil- and gas-site emissions, Environment Texas will press the state’s railroad commission to end the practice of methane flaring. In addition, the Texas affiliate will utilize legal action, when necessary, against top polluters to stop illegal air pollution.

Elsewhere, Environment Florida will push for creating a state climate action and resiliency plan, and Environment Montana is hosting a statewide series of “Climate on Tap” events to encourage legislative leaders to take bold action on climate in the next legislative session.

Getting the lead out of our kids’ school drinking water. Too many of America’s schools have levels of lead in drinking water that threaten children’s health. 

Environment Michigan is supporting legislation that will commit $60 million for filtered water stations in all public schools. Environment New Jersey aims to get a bill passed that would put $500 million toward removing and replacing lead service lines. Environment Montana will work to push the state’s proposed lead rule over the finish line, and ensure that it is implemented so that students and parents can know their school water is safe. 

Finally, Environment Florida, Environment Maryland and Environment Missouri are supporting policies that would require the installation of filters certified to remove lead on all taps used for cooking or drinking water. The are also calling for schools to immediately shut off taps in schools where water contains more lead than one part per billion.

Cleaning up America’s waterways. Americans deserve clean and safe water for both drinking and recreation. But everything from factory farms to coal ash pollution threaten clean water. 

Environment Florida wants policies to reduce algae-inducing pollution from factory farms, and to fund green infrastructure that will prevent stormwater runoff and sewage pollution. Similarly, Environment Maryland will push for a moratorium on factory farms in the state until the dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay disappears.

Environment Georgia and Environment North Carolina will both work to spur cleanups of dangerous coal ash.

Protecting pollinators and our food supply. Nationwide, Environment America’s state groups support banning the bee-killing pesticides called neonicotinoids. Environment Colorado, Maine and Wisconsin Environment, in particular, will support legislation banning the use of neonics this coming year.

Standing up for our open spaces, and fighting oil and gas development. Environment Montana intends to fight oil and gas development that threatens Montana’s High Divide ecosystem. In addition, Environment Texas will launch the Million Acre Parks project, which will call on the state to add one million acres of parks and open space.