Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Leah Cardamore Stokes's "Short Circuiting Policy"

Leah C. Stokes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States, and reported the following:
From page 99:
At the state level, there were few renewable energy projects in the pipeline by the early 1990s. Instead, advocates focused their attention on blocking coal plants. Before deregulation, many states had transitioned to IRP processes. In theory, this planning approach was supposed to bring public benefits like environmental harms into utilities’ proposals. It largely worked: advocates advancing energy efficiency and renewables in IRPs were often winning. But with deregulation, the IRP process would disappear from many states (Duane 2002; Wiser et al. 2000). Thus, advocates had to change tactics and find new policy ideas that could be tacked onto the agenda of the day: electricity restructuring.

Advocates working through a cross-state network saw restructuring as a policy opportunity. The Energy Foundation—a foundation started in 1991 that provides grants to clean energy advocates—funded this advocacy network. The group met regularly to discuss policy ideas and political strategies. To build capacity offline, the foundation set up a list-serve where members could share and debate. Key groups in this network in the mid-1990s included the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and the Utility Reform Network (TURN).

In specific states, the foundation would strategically fund groups when policy opportunities arose. This funding strategy involved a blend of insider groups, who could sit at the table and negotiate policy; and outsider groups, who could build grassroots campaigns to pressure the negotiations externally. Over time, this strategy evolved, and eventually the Energy Foundation saw itself as funding three kinds of groups: pillars, specialists, and local groups. Pillars led regional efforts across the country, providing professional staff and technical expertise—these groups included UCS, the Renewable Northwest Project and the Conservation Law Foundation. Specialist groups had a narrow focus, only working on one topic such as energy efficiency. Local groups had relationships and credibility in a given state and the ability to drive grassroots mobilization. In practice, this funding model sometimes failed to incorporate local groups into national campaigns or would result in national groups parachuting into local debates last minute. That said, even those groups that did not receive foundation funding, such as state Public Interest Research Groups and Environment America, built relationships with the network and provided critical grassroots support. Many of the EF-funded groups also worked together to try to get a federal clean energy target on the agenda during the 1990s, although that effort ultimately failed.

The advocates struggled in the early days of this foundation network to agree on which policy to advance (Wiser et al. 1998). There were three main options: voluntary green power purchasing, a system benefits charge, and...
Page 99 is a few pages from the end of Chapter 3, which discusses the institutional history of electricity politics and climate inaction. The page is a decent reflection of the book as a whole. It touches on how an advocacy group network was formed to promote clean energy policies across the American states. These groups, who have worked on trying to advance climate policy for decades, include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club. The page ends on a gloomy note: these advocates’ efforts in the 1990s to pass a federal clean energy standard failed. Sadly, this page captures one of the themes of the book: our failure to pass clean energy legislation that is up to the scale of the climate challenge. What the page largely leaves out is the dominant and disproportionately powerful role that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies played in systematically attacking and preventing clean energy policies. This includes trying to roll back Renewable Portfolio Standards and net metering laws, whose implementation was helping to decarbonize our electricity grid and address climate change. I hope that my book can help expose the historic and systematic efforts electric utilities, fossil fuel companies and other interest groups have taken to block and weaken climate policy. Ultimately, we need a federal clean energy standard to ensure that all states are cleaning up their electricity systems. Perhaps we will finally get one in 2021!
Visit Leah C. Stokes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue