DENVER -- While progress on environmental issues on the national stage proved challenging in 2019, advocates at the state and municipal levels made great strides this year in advancing renewable energy usage, decreasing plastic waste, creating cleaner transportation, and conserving land and wildlife.
“In 2019, environmental action from Maine to California and Florida to Washington showed what we can accomplish together to make the planet cleaner and safer,” said Ed Johnson, president of Environment America, a nonpartisan national advocacy group. “States understand that if we want to leave a better world for future generations and prevent the tremendous dangers associated with climate change, big changes are necessary. We’re gratified that so many people are taking up this challenge.”
Here is a list of 2019 state-level environmental highlights, including work done by Environment America and its affiliates (laws that go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, are flagged):
Committing to 100% Renewable Energy: A year ago, only two states had pledged to power their electric grids with 100 percent clean energy in the coming decades. Now, that number has tripled. This year, Environment America’s state staff helped secure laws setting timetables for Maine, New Mexico and Washington to reach 100 percent clean energy. New York’s commitment in June brought the number to six (the two original states were California, where Environment California helped earn a commitment in 2018, and Hawaii). Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey (which will rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Jan. 1), North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin are among other states that also took important steps toward a renewable energy-fueled future in 2019. In addition, California will continue its efforts on this front by requiring that builders equip all new homes with rooftop solar panels beginning on Jan 1.
Cities and counties across the country also made headway this past year. Athens-Clarke County, Ga., Texas’ Harris County, Missoula, Mont., St. Petersburg, Fla. and Tallahassee, Fla., among others, all committed to 100 percent clean energy.
Prioritizing “Wildlife Over Waste” by banning single-use plastics: Connecticut, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont all banned single-use plastic bags this year, joining California, which banned them in 2016. (Oregon’s ban will go into force on Jan. 1.) This spring, Maine and Maryland became the first states to prohibit single-use polystyrene foam containers.
Cities and counties also joined in this trend, including large ones such as Philadelphia and Albuquerque, N.M., which both banned single-use plastic bags; Georgia’s Fulton County, which put a ban on certain single-use plastics in county facilities; and Denver, which instituted a 10-cent plastic bag fee.
Fighting global warming in the transportation sector by getting to “Destination: Zero Carbon”: Environment America’s state staff promoted clean electric vehicles across the country. Positive change occurred in: Arizona, which made plans to boost electric vehicles; Colorado, where more clean cars will hit the road because the state joined the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program; New Jersey, which invested millions of dollars in increasing electric vehicle use around the state; North Carolina, which made important ZEV strides; and Virginia, which rolled out the nation’s largest initiative to launch electric school buses.
Elsewhere, Wisconsin directed $15 million from the Volkswagen settlement fund to electric vehicle charging and buses, while Nevada both created fines for parking a fossil fuel-powered vehicle in spaces designated for electric vehicles and enacted provisions to boost electric scooter use. In Texas, Houston passed a $3.5 billion bond to expand public transit.
Increasing Conservation: Efforts to protect land and water spanned the continent. Environment Montana successfully mobilized opposition to proposed oil and gas leases that would have threatened water quality in the Big Hole River Valley. Oregon established a permanent moratorium on nearshore oil and gas drilling as well as a five-year ban on fracking.
In Nevada, the state announced its support for the Nevada Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation plan. New Jersey protected 749 miles of state waterways under the Clean Water Act, and Environment Texas helped win a ballot initiative to boost Texas park funding by holding events statewide in the run-up to the vote.
Protecting communities through Clean Air Act litigation: Environment America affiliates were active in 2019 fighting pollution-belching plants in the courts. Environment Michigan was instrumental in bringing a lawsuit against Detroit’s DRP Incinerator, Michigan’s largest trash incinerator. Following the suit’s announcement, the plant’s owners decided to permanently close it. Elsewhere, PennEnvironment was involved in filing a citizen enforcement lawsuit against U.S. Steel over Clean Air Act violations at three of its plants. Environment Texas was also part of a coalition that went to court to hold Valero Energy Corporation and Premcor Refining Group accountable for violating the Clean Air Act at their Port Arthur, Texas, refinery.