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Climate and Emission Control Policies in the USA Essay

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Updated: Jan 10th, 2021


As one of the most developed and advanced countries around the globe, the United States of America has acknowledged that the global climate change is an actual problem that affects the entire world and requires immediate action in order to be minimized in the near future. The problem has been recognized for many decades, and accordingly, action has been undertaken for the purpose to explore the issue, search for effective solutions, and address it at local, state, as well as international level.

While the progress regarding policies addressing the global climate change is slow and complicated by a variety of factors, the success in developing solutions for this problem seems to be slightly easier to achieve on a domestic level rather than internationally. This impression may persist due to the involvement of a smaller variety of agents and a greater opportunity to control the domestic and local policies in contrast with those of the global nature. However, as multiple pieces of evidence from the US history show, over the last couple of decades, there has been a lot of effort to employ and implement different kinds of environmental legislation aiming at the minimization of emissions on the territory of the country and the success in regard to this undertaking has been rather uncertain.

The Climate Problem in the United States

When discussing the dynamics related to the state policies designed to address the impacts of climate change, it is important to mention the actual effects of the climate change that the country has experienced and witnessed over the last years. According to the information provided by the US Department of Energy, the measures of the temperature in the territory of the United States that have been accrued out for over a century, showed that since the beginning of the 1900s, the average temperature in the country has risen by one and a half degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) (i).

This change, as slight and unnoticeable as it may seem, there came a set of other effects that had very serious outcomes; for instance, the US has seen multiple extreme heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and floods that are linked to the change of climate. In turn, all of these outcomes are parts of a longer chain connecting the warming planet to physical damage to people and properties, businesses, systems, and infrastructure (US Department of Energy i-ii).

In particular, the US energy sector is one of the systems facing a series of problems due to the raising temperatures. First of all, climate change tends to produce a significant adverse impact on the mining of oil and gas (offshore and onshore), the maintenance of versatile sources of energy (hydropower, bioenergy, solar power), and the transportation of resources using maritime ways. In addition, the rapid change of temperatures in winter and summer causes extreme heat and cold waves that force the population to consume more electricity used for the heating or cooling of spaces and this tendency is very harmful to the environment and clashes with the principles of sustainable development (US Department of Energy ii).

In turn, in order to address the vulnerabilities of the energy sector, a set of response measures is required designed to make the aforementioned systems stronger and more resilient to spontaneous and sudden shifts and changes. It goes without saying that such measures take up a lot of funding and effort, which, ultimately upsets the systems due to frequent adjustments and renovation and weakens the state budget due to constant changes (US Department of Energy iii).

In other sectors the situation is similar. Boswell et al. reported that global warming is observed to produce extensive adverse effects on the human health, safety, national security, ecosystems, infrastructure, and economy (1). As a result, the state response to these effects has led to the creation of a wide range of policies directed at the minimization of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) – the major factors that cause the aggravation of the warming.

Approaches Taken to Address Climate Change in the US

When it comes to the position of the USA as one of the world’s most active GHG emitters in regard to climate change policies, Kyoto protocol is often remembered. In particular, Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement organized by the United Nations and obliging the states participating in this agreement to tale active measures aimed at the reduction of GHG emissions based on the recognition of the fact that global warming is a problem and that it is caused by anthropogenic factors such as the release of GHG (United Nations 1-3).

Notable, the USA is not a member of this treaty as the Bill Clinton Administration faced the Senate’s objection to Kyoto Protocol in 1997; the Senate insisted that the protocol was flawed due to the exemption for the developing countries (Bodnar). However, this does not mean that the US does not attempt to minimize its emissions via the implementation of specialized policies. In fact, Barak Obama Administration made an active effort to address the Kyoto system and encourage its replacement with the Parise Agreement that aligns the carbon footprint of the emerging economies such as India and China with those of the developed countries (Bodnar).

In addition, under the Presidency of Barak Obama, the United States has advanced its success in combating climate change and managed to address a series of problems. Some of the most well-known changes undertaken in the US during that period included the minimization of emissions produced by motor vehicles, the interdiction of limitations and regulations of emissions caused by power plants, and the adjustments that resulted in a drastic increase of efficiency of many different appliances thus cutting the consumption of energy by households (Sunstein 1-2).

The Administration of Barak Obama made the issues related to and caused by climate change one of the main priorities and worked hard on addressing them without postponing the solutions and handling what is usually perceived as “more important” challenges such as those of the healthcare system and the state economy. The Obama Administration saw the connections between the challenges faced by various sectors and the problem of climate change and handled them as a bundle without disregarding the root cause and focusing only on the outcomes (Sunstein 2-3).

Separately, it is important to mention the success of the state of California in terms of battling the causes and effects of climate change. In particular, in 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a public statement recognizing the problem of global warming and called to action from the side of the state authorities. Prior to launching the first effective climate change initiatives, a substantial body of research was carried out for the purposes of establishing the exact consequences faced by California and the areas that required change (Farell and Hanemann 88).

Specifically, the policies targeting climate change included in the state of California included a solar energy initiative expanding the alternative sources of sustainable and renewable energy, GHG reduction regulations for businesses, the promotion of low-carbon fuel, and emission capping for larger production organizations, among others (Farell and Hanemann 88-89). A broad set of regulations were introduced to multiple sectors in order to provide the opportunities for sustainable development switching some of the infrastructure and business fields to a more efficient pattern of operation.

The Challenges in Developing Climate Policy at the State, Federal, and Municipal Levels in the United States

The role of the American government in the development and implementation of policies aimed at the issues linked to climate change has been evolving throughout the last couple of decades (Rabe 68). However, when it comes to the pace at which the evolution of environmental policies developed at the federal and state levels, it is important to note that while the federal policy faced stasis, the state regulations gained success and became more active (Rabe 68; “Climate Change Laws in the USA”).

In particular, by the end of 2008, the vast majority of the states were involved in the active implementation of versatile environmental policies eight of which were especially promising in regard to the reduction of GHG emissions; in addition, most states launched research programs directed at the exploration of remedies for climate change dynamics and effects; the engagement of some states was as intense as that of some European countries (Rabe 68). The challenges experienced in regard to adoption of climate change policies at the state levels were mainly driven by such issues as the lack of finding, the insufficient research that also required a substantial budget, and a rational plan of action allowing the implementation of the required change and its successful maintenance over a long period.

However, the overall level of involvement, as well as the activity in terms of environmental initiatives, in the United States was quite modest and could barely match the progress made by the other developed and advanced countries of the world; to be more precise, in contrast with the emission levels registered in the 1990s, the United States aimed at the achievement of a 5% reduction by 2020; this percentage is much less ambitious than the aims of the countries of Europe involved in the similar initiatives (“Climate Change Laws in the USA”). Also, it is important to mention that the current aim is to reduce the GHG emissions by a total of 17% by 2020 in comparison to the levels of the 1990s.

Many federal attempts to pass comprehensive and effective climate change bills failed. Namely, one of the most well-known bills of this nature was the ACES – the American Clean Energy and Security Bill; it was also referred to as Waxman-Markey bill; in 2009, this bill passed the House of Representatives but soon was rejected by the Senate, just like most all similar federal bills (“Climate Change Laws in the USA”).

Finally, when it comes to the climate change policies implemented at the municipal level, it is important to point out that by the end of the 2000s, most municipal governments in the USA were fully equipped to address the problems of carbon emissions and also has the tools to handle the sustainability and efficiency challenges; this was the case because the municipal governments carried out the role of service delivery and regulation (Bae and Feiock 2).

In that way, it was quite natural that the roles of municipal governments as the implementers of the climate change policies strengthened by the second wave of the environmental regulations while the role of the federal government gradually shrunk (Bae and Feiock 2). At the same time, the specific factors that are involved in the adoption rates of versatile sustainability programs; in that way, the challenges persisting on the local level of policy and initiative adoption and popularization are still in need of research.


Over the last couple of decades, the United States of America has shown a significant development in regard to the implementation and practice of policies aimed at the minimization of the causes and effects of climate change. Specifically, multiple initiatives designed to help reduce GHG emissions produced by power plants and motor vehicles, as well as many regulations directed at the increase in sustainable development and efficient use of energy and electricity.

This leap occurred mainly due to the persistent significance of the adverse effects the global warming had on diverse sectors of the United States economy, public health, infrastructure, security, and safety. However, the policy-making at the federal level was significantly slower than that at the state and municipal levels which have seen a great deal of success due to the adoption of effective long-term initiatives tackling the existing challenges and producing measurable results.

Works Cited

Bae, Jungah and Richard Feiock. “Forms of Government and Climate Change Policies in US Cities.” Urban Studies, vol. 1, no. 13, 2012, pp. 1-13.

Bodnar, Paul. “CSIS. 2017. Web.

Boswell, Michael R. et al. Local Climate Action Planning. Island Press, 2012.

Climate Home. 2013. Web.

Farrell, Alexander E. and Michael Hanemann. “Field Notes on the Political Economy of California Climate Policy.” Changing Climates in North American politics: Institutions, Policymaking, and Multilevel Governance, edited by Henrik Selin and Stacy D. VanDeveer. MIT Press, 2009, pp. 87-109.

Rabe, Barry G. “Second-Generation Climate Policies in the States: Proliferation, Diffusion, and Regionalization.” Changing Climates in North American Politics: Institutions, Policymaking, and Multilevel Governance, edited by Henrik Selin and Stacy D. VanDeveer. MIT Press, 2009, pp. 68-85.

Sunstein, Cass R. Changing Climate Change, 2009-2016.

US Department of Energy. US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather. 2013.

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