Coordinating Climate Policy

We have a White House climate czar. That’s not going to be enough.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) creates a massive funding program for clean energy and other climate policies. This funding complements regulatory efforts at EPA elsewhere.  Yet authority over energy policy is fragmented at the federal level. Without better coordination, there’s a risk that various policies will mesh poorly or operate at cross-purposes. And state governments, who are also major players in this area, will find it hard to coordinate with the Feds if they don’t know where the Feds are heading.

There’s no question that federal authority over energy is fragmented.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversees energy markets, pipelines hydropower and to some extent power transmission.  The Department of Energy has limited regulatory powers (primarily over transmission) but controls nuclear power and a lot of spending. EPA regulates pollution from the energy sector, including emissions of greenhouse gases, which has an important impact on the energy mix. The Department of Interior owns or controls a big chunk of oil and gas resources as well as important cites for clean energy projects and transmission.

The White House climate czar is meant to help coordinate these activities. But a small White House office can’t provide the guidance needed for a diverse group containing thousands of federal officials to coordinate their activities. It also can’t map the trajectory of federal policy well enough to guide to all the actors in the private sector and state government who need to coordinate their plans with the Feds.

I’ve begun thinking of coordination mechanisms that could help ensure that agencies are all moving in the same direction.  Here are some preliminary thoughts:

Scoping plans.  California has successfully used scoping plans to guide its overall climate policies.  It’s not clear to me whether there’s a way of directing translating this process into the federal legal framework.  Still, something like the use of programmatic environmental impact statements could provide a model for how to implement broader scale planning within the executive branch.

The social cost of carbon (SCC).  The SCC is an estimate of the amount of harm caused by each additional ton of CO2. Discussion of the SCC tend to focus on substance, and it’s obviously important to try to get the number right. Quite apart from what number to use, the effort to settle on a single number for all agencies is helpful in aligning their policies and helping outsiders gauge where the agencies may be heading.

Standardizing models and scenarios.  Agency plans aren’t likely to gibe if they’re using different ways of projecting the future.  It would be very helpful if agencies could agree on a standard set of models of the energy system and a fixed set of scenarios to be considered, such as different trajectories for energy prices and transmission roll-out. Standardizing would also allow more focused work inside and outside the federal government to improve the models and investigate their implications.

Institutionalized coordination.  There undoubtedly many informal interactions between agency officials, but it would be helpful to have something more established.  One model could be the Federal Stability Oversight Council, which was established by Dodd-Frank. FSOC brings together ten different federal agencies, plus some state officials in an advisory capacity, with the mission of preventing another federal crisis.  A similar group of agency officials could be established for the energy transition, initially by executive order (and with voluntary participation by FERC), and maybe later by statute.

A political scientists once said that getting agencies to cooperate is like teaching elephants to dance. Maybe so.  But for the energy transition to happen, improved coordination is vital.


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Reader Comments

7 Replies to “Coordinating Climate Policy”

  1. Dan, I shouldn’t have to tell an eminent academic that we have learned over the last few years that WE CANNOT DEPEND ON POLITICIANS TO MAKE THE RIGHT THINGS HAPPEN IN TIME.

    However, I am wondering about intellectuals, especially after the Durants’ grave historical warning about that civilizations die when polticians or intellectuals fail to meet the challenges of change.

    We failed to meet grave warnings of the first Earth Day in 1970 (Pogo: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us”), we have failed to meet Jim Hansen’s 1988 “350 or Bust” and now we are failing to meet 1.5C.

    Either academic intellectuals MAKE THE RIGHT THINGS HAPPEN TODAY or we shall fail to meet the gravest challenge of change ever!


    COP-27 Financiers and Merchants Of Death

    However, the greatest hypocrisy of all was on full-throated display at the COP-27 …

  3. One might ask ‘What happened to The White House advisor on climate, and the Council on Environmental Quality?’
    Pres. Obama’s climate catastrophe advisor, John Holdren, has said that he was ignored by the President.
    the record is clear the problem is not ‘inadequate coordination’ between the White House and federal and state agencies. The record shows that since Regan and the onset of dereg, big industry has pushed back against environmental regulation in myriad ways, including agency capture.

  4. Let us not pretend that its a ‘lack of coordination between agencies and interested parties’.
    Pres. Obama’s climate catastrophe advisor, John Holdren, was available, in the White House, ready and waiting to help advise the President and to assist with coordination. He said that he was completely ignored by the President the entire time he was there. I do not think I need to spell out why.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more