Something For Less Than Nothing: A Radical Idea To Get More State Legislatures Behind Clean Technologies

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In the fall, the state legislatures of the United States are usually far from top of mind. Most states do a legislative session only in the spring, and they only go for anywhere from 30 days to just a few months. During that time, many articles about proposed bills and their progress hit the news, with some of the coverage of much higher quality than others. Some writers have an excellent understanding of how the process works, while others will take a controversial bill with zero chance of passage and act like it’s the will of a whole state.

But, by the time state legislatures are hitting the news, it’s probably too late for anyone outside of the legislature to have much of an effect on the process. The bills with the best chance of success are introduced right at the beginning of the session, and even earlier, and will have the most time to get through. Even then, most die before even being considered by a committee. The most successful bills get through the committees earlier in the session so that there’s time to pass through both House and Senate (except for Kansas, which has a unicameral legislature), and have any differences in the bills reconciled.

Sadly, the fate of many bills is decided by partisan politics and not actual votes. The majority party often gets to put more of their members on the committees, and any bills not favored by that party get blocked there before discussion because they don’t get put on a calendar. Those that a committee feels merit discussion often get killed after talking about it. For better or worse, bills that either the majority party likes or those liked enough by both major parties end up getting a vote.

So, now, in the fall before legislatures meet, is the time to come up with bills that can both be pre-filed and could gain bipartisan support. In this article, I’ll talk about a possible way to get that support for bills you suggest to supportive state legislators early.

Ideal Clean Tech Bills That Probably Wouldn’t Get Through Committee In Most States

I’m sure readers here could come up with many ideas that they’d love to see a state legislature pass, but I’ll throw a few out there.

An obvious one would be to get a state to spend more money on rebates and tax credits for solar, EVs, e-bikes, battery storage, and efficient household appliances (often with heat pumps). Why? Because lowering the effective price of clean technologies obviously increases how many people will buy them. But, unless a state legislature is dominated by more supportive Democrats, this just doesn’t happen. If anything, centrist and Republican states want to throw a tax on clean technologies, often with intent to stifle them.

The biggest argument against these subsidies? Limited money. Unlike the federal government, most state governments can’t run a deficit and fire up the printing press to spend practically unlimited money (consequences be damned). So, getting a state government to spend money on such things just isn’t easy with all of the different things that need attention.

Even things that don’t cost the state something, or bring more money into the state’s budget, can be controversial in politics. Taxes on fossil fuels to discourage their unchecked use and to fund clean energy programs? That’ll get you laughed out of a Republican legislature (assuming you don’t get attacked, perhaps physically, for suggesting such a thing). Permitting reform for faster solar and EV charging station installation? Well, it’s clear that you don’t care about safety! Think of the children, you heartless wench!!!

At the end of the day, arguments against state legislation to support clean technologies are mostly excuses, but with some valid arguments sprinkled in to make it not entirely obvious that it’s a ruse. They can’t openly admit that they’re taking money from fossil fuel interests and are voting accordingly.

Getting Them To Support A Pro-Clean Tech Bill

To get politicians to seriously consider voting against their donors and right-wing media, you’d have to give them both something that puts money in the state budget and gives them a win that they can use to explain their support for the bill. But, to give them that win often comes at the expense of Democratic and left-wing policy priorities, making it nearly impossible for the bill to get any traction on the other side.

So, what you need is a bill that gives pro-fossil Republicans an important win without making pro-clean tech Democrats feel like they took a big loss. Such an issue probably sounds like something out of quantum physics, like Schrodinger’s Cat.

But, instead of looking only at wins versus losses, clean tech advocates (particular Democratic Party clean tech advocates) should instead look for the worst things that have happened in the last few years and look for ways to put the bow of the ship toward the biggest waves. Or, put another way, I think it’s time to look at the biggest problems facing the Democratic Party and look for ways to see them as opportunities in work clothes.

An Example: Looking for Policy Opportunities In Supreme Court Decisions

If you’re a committed Democrat, the mere mention of the NYSRPA v Bruen and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decisions from last year will probably cause your blood pressure to go up. If you don’t know what those cases were about and how they went, and you click the links, you’re probably going to get really mad at me for bringing it up. They involve such divisive topics that I’m not going to discuss them here, because the emotional children among us will decide to fight over it instead of discussing the ways in which Democrats could make use of them to get better public policy.

Seriously, if you go into the comments looking to argue over those decisions, I’m going to laugh at you, as will the more mature readers. Why? Because the Republicans have you right where they want you: emotionally fired up and incapable of deeper thinking. When you should be focusing hard on playing chess (if not 3D chess from Star Trek), they’re trying to fool you into getting so angry and distracted that you’re not able to play Tic Tac Toe.

But, what if Democrats could use these decisions to their advantage? I know that probably looks difficult right now because they were both big losses by themselves, and they were followed by even more losses since then both in state legislatures and the courts. I also know that many of you want to continue to battle on these issues tooth-and-nail to the bitter end, because they’re important to you.

But, if you take a few deep breaths and stop to think for a second, you’ll realize that you’re not going to win those battles quickly without resorting to extreme measures, like packing the Supreme Court (a move that would probably result in civil war). And passing constitutional amendments? Have you looked at what it takes to make one of those happen? The cold, hard fact is that will take decades of hard work to change the composition of the Supreme Court and change these decisions.

But, while you’re working on that effort election year after election year, there’s an issue we simply don’t have decades to wait for: climate change.

So, why not offer Republicans wins they already secured in exchange for some action on climate change? The alternative (especially for NYSRPA v Bruen) is to pass more laws that will get struck down in court, and spend millions of dollars in state money defending laws that we already know won’t survive. But, to finish up the effort, Republicans are also needing to spend millions of dollars in legal fees (which they’ll end up getting paid back when they win).

So, instead of wasting millions of dollars worth of taxpayer funds, why not go ahead and pass a bill that gives them what they’re going to win in court anyway? But, to shortcut to the end of that fight, they need to pay the toll. And, that toll needs to be climate and clean tech action that Democrats will not get if they fight those fights to the bitter end.

I know “giving in” to Republicans on these issues will be a hard sell, but be sure to remind people that there’s no real cost to this. If anything, skipping these wasteful legal battles frees up money that could go toward climate efforts.

Featured image: The Capitol Building in Washington D.C., USA | | Date= 2006-04-01 Photo by Andrew Bossi; Dual-licensed under the GFDL and CC-By-SA-2.5, 2.0, and 1.0

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba