One quick look at a map that ranks the fifty U.S. states in terms of their energy efficiency programs and you might catch what appears to be a familiar pattern.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) today released its annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard report (pdf), which ranks all 50 states and Washington D.C. on how "energy efficient" they are. For the fourth year in a row, California tops the list, and for the second year in a row Massachusetts came in at number two.
“Even as Washington dawdles on climate and clean energy, states are moving ahead with considerable vigor on these vital matters, with energy efficiency initiatives leading the way," said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel in a statement.
Nadel emphasized that while $11 billion in Recovery Act funds played a "helpful" role, "the overall story here is one of states getting done what Congress has so far failed to do.”
The ACEEE report assesses policy and programs that improve energy efficiency in homes, businesses, industry, and transportation sectors. The Scorecard examines six state energy efficiency policy areas: utility and public benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power; state government initiatives; and appliance efficiency standards.
The circularity of federalism and the energy efficiency gap
Western states made a good showing in the most improved category with Arizona moving up 11 spots to #18; Utah gaining 11 spots and moving to #12; and New Mexico up 8 spots to #22. On the other end of the trending spectrum, Texas (#32) and New Hampshire (#22) dropped the farthest in the 2010 Scorecard, down nine spots each.
And the states that are picking up the most slack are mostly states favorable to center-left or left politics.
Looking at the map (or the list) on a macro scale, you'll notice that the vast majority of states in the top 10 traditionally lean Democrat and the states in the bottom 10 lean Republican. If you are especially astute, you might also notice that I made almost the same exact observation one year ago.
Energy Efficiency Scorecard Top 10:
4. New York
7. Rhode Island
Energy Efficiency Scorecard Bottom 10:
43. West Virginia
51. North Dakota
So at issue is whether Republicans (and by extension, conservatives) can be categorically defined as a group opposed to energy efficiency (and yes, of course that's a strawperson argument). The answer to that question is no.
However, invoking the Tenth Amendment, many Republicans argue that states should be able to decide for themselves whether and how to implement energy efficiency programs. The problem is that the states with the least aggressive energy efficiency programs are also the ones most likely to oppose energy efficiency programs at the federal level. And conversely, the states with the most aggressive energy efficiency programs are the states that normally support energy efficiency at the federal level.
If energy efficiency is the easiest and cheapest way to find "new" sources of energy and if energy efficiency isn't always achieved by leaving market forces to themselves, shouldn't there be a role for government incentives and other mechanisms to encourage efficiency? The answer to that question is yes.
So if the federal government should leave energy efficiency to the states but the states then choose to avoid efficiency programs altogether, what is the next step? How do Republicans think we should approach energy efficiency, if at all?
See the full list of the 2010 ACEEE energy efficiency rankings