University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law


Steven Weissman


The federal system employed in the United States offers many models for cooperation between the federal government and the states in pursuit of important policy objectives. Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can establish air quality standards and delegate enforcement to the states. The Coastal Zone Management Act empowers states to establish plans for management of ocean waters close to shore and to have a say related to offshore projects that are in federal jurisdictional waters. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 allows coal states to set and enforce their own rules related to mountaintop mining. The Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 sets some standards that the states must enforce or risk federal intervention. It also requires states to consider, but not necessarily adopt, various energy policy options related to rate-setting and program offerings.

The political realities related to renewable energy policy suggest that Congress will continue to fail in its effort to create a top-down, prescribed set of goals for states to implement or will enact a law that is weak or potentially counterproductive. A more promising approach may be to insist that states adopt and implement programs that increase the use of renewable electric generation and then offer incentives for the states to make those programs as ambitious and effective as possible.