June 24, 2020

Two Policy Briefs Look to Establish Foundation for Federal/State Partnership on Climate Change

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

DURHAM, N.C.—States and local communities in the United States have increasingly taken the lead on addressing climate change in the absence of federal action, but they lack the resources to meet the scale of the challenge. A pair of new policy briefs from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions seeks to build a foundation for a federal/state climate partnership by exploring what states need to move forward.

“We are at a moment where we are both looking to invest in our country and tackle the climate challenge,” said Tim Profeta, Nicholas Institute director, who co-wrote both papers. “The states are capable and traditional partners in such investment, and we hope these briefs help policy makers understand how and where to build that partnership.”

Profeta suggested the concept of a federal/state partnership as a potential path for breaking the national political stalemate on the issue and achieving "fast and significant climate action" in an October policy brief. Under the concept, the federal government would establish greenhouse gas emission targets while empowering states to craft individual plans for how to meet those goals. This model has been successfully employed to tackle other environmental challenges, including most major air pollutants, Profeta said during prepared testimony for the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change in December.

The first new policy brief focuses on improvements that states need to make in understanding climate impact costs and developing resiliency strategies. An assessment found that states do not have the required resources to address the complex and unique challenges that they each face, including increased severe weather events, coastal erosion, and declining yields from crops and fisheries. Already operating with tight budgets before the COVID-19 pandemic, states are receiving limited help from outside sources, such as the federal government.

The brief outlines a series of steps for states to take a more holistic look at their current and future costs related to climate impacts so they can more efficiently plan, manage, and act. Investments in preventive measures now could significantly reduce spending later when disasters strike. Among the recommended steps are: shifting the focus of research from the proportional responsibility of climate change to assessing impacts, bolstering data infrastructure, and building regional coalitions to study shared impacts and petition for additional federal resources.

The second brief covers one potential mechanism that the federal government could employ to support state climate efforts—grant programs. The federal government invests $11.3 billion each year in clean energy technology and climate science, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Despite that spending, the brief notes that Congress has not established a “coordinated and adequately funded” set of grant programs dedicated to assisting states with climate assessment, planning, and programs.

Climate planning grants could be distributed fairly and equitably across all states to enable them to develop climate solutions that best fit their needs, from technological innovation to disaster preparedness, the brief’s authors wrote. In addition, they argue that these grants could enable states to create a pipeline of “shovel-ready” projects that stimulus funding could be directed toward to help recover from the economic shutdowns caused by COVID-19.

“As we look to stimulus funding in particular, it would be basic good governance to empower the states to plan targeted and cost-effective investments that will create jobs and address greenhouse gases,” Profeta said. “Hopefully, this catalogue will give federal funders a place to start shopping for programs to do just that.”

The first policy brief, “Climate Change Is Here, but Who Is Paying for It?”, was written by Profeta; Elizabeth Thompson, president at Compass Pt; and Conor Mulderrig, a master of environmental management (MEM) candidate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The second brief, “Federal Grants to States: Opportunities for Climate Change Assessment, Planning, Programs, and Information Exchange,” was written by Profeta and Jeremy Symons, principal at Symons Public Affairs.


Members of the media interested in speaking with Tim Profeta should contact Jeremy Ashton, jeremy.ashton@duke.edu or 919.613.4361.

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