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Comparative Domestic Policies – Experiences at the Subnational Level

Comparative Domestic Policies – Experiences at the Subnational Level

12 June 2007

Miranda SchreursOn 12 June, 2007, a transatlantic Ecologic Dinner Dialogue was held in Berlin with Miranda A. Schreurs, Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Maryland, College Park. In her talk, Miranda Schreurs highlighted the increasing role of the sub-national level in the United States, especially with regard to environmental legislation. Particularly western and north-eastern states in the US have been developing cutting-edge approaches to deal with challenges in the fields of renewable energy and climate change policy. This state-level action has triggered discussion about new opportunities and challenges - ones that have practical, legal and transatlantic dimensions.

In her remarks, Miranda Schreurs noted the divide being noticed in examinations comparing climate and energy policies in the US and EU. For example, while the EU pushes for ambitious climate goals; Washington has attracted attention for its efforts to slow down or even block the Kyoto process. Also, renewable energy is boosted through various EU initiatives while the US government focuses more on the fossil-fuel sector or nuclear technology.

On the other hand, devolution of responsibility can be observed in the field of energy and climate policy from the federal to the state and municipal level on a remarkable scale, specifically in California and other western states and in the Northeast. The New England states (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont) have been at work since 2001 on implementing Kyoto-like mechanisms, pursuing similar targets for reducing emissions as foreseen in the Kyoto Protocol. Even regional agreements with the neighbouring southern states of Canada are being set up. Therefore, the gap between the EU and the US is not as wide on a subnational level.

In the subsequent discussion, participants agreed that more attention should be paid on the issue of federalism and how subnational politics can influence policy outcomes and change the direction of national and even international policies. Related questions evolved about the respective rights of the federal government versus the states in determining environmental standards and regulations.

Participants discussed the following issues and questions:

  • To what degree might local policy initiatives be able to influence environmental legislation on a federal level, and thereby affect international environmental legislation? 
  • Will the shift of responsibility to the state level in the field of climate and energy policy spill over to other policy areas such as immigration?
  • To what degree will the activities of the states eventually lead to greater responsibility on the federal level and help address the challenges necessary to respond to the global challenges such as climate change?
  • The discussion included the multi-faceted role of business, both as pushers and adversaries of high climate and energy standards. While producers of clean technology are benefiting from ambitious legislation, others try to block it. 
  • Related to the business dynamics, solutions must be sought for dealing with different standards and different costs evolving form independent legislation on the subnational level. While innovation on the subnational level leads to advantages, it can also lead to costs due to needed adjustments to different standards in different states and regions.

In the discussion, repeated references to the EU were made. While not being perceived as a federal entity, the EU does have traits of a sovereign country. Examples of interactions between the EU- and member state-level thereby served as a source of reference for the assessment of dynamics and outcomes in US climate and energy legislation. 

Further links:



American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS)

AICGS and Ecologic are grateful for the generous support of the DaimlerChrysler-Fonds im Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft.

Miranda Schreurs
12 June 2007
Berlin, Germany