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Tim Profeta: Breaking the Stalemate on Climate Change

Tim Profeta offers testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Tim Profeta offers testimony on climate change before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The U.S. is at an impasse when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but an  approach that has worked for other issues could help break the stalemate, says Duke’s Tim Profeta. Profeta shared his proposal Thursday in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. He also describes the plan in a new op-ed in The Hill. Read his testimony here.

Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and an associate professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy, sat down with Duke Today to describe the basics of his proposal.


Q: What’s the essence of your proposal on how to reduce greenhouse emissions in the U.S.? 

PROFETA: I propose using a federal-state partnership to attack climate change akin to the cooperative federalist approach that permeates much of our legal code.  In such a system, the federal government would set greenhouse gas goals for each state to ensure that all 50 states are moving forward. It would leave it to state governments, which are more directly accountable to their communities, to execute plans to reach those goals.


Q: Why might this approach work when other approaches haven’t?

PROFETA: This approach may not fall victim to the political pitfalls of other approaches, but may still allow the level of ambition we need.  In particular, the approach should be familiar and thus more comfortable. It allows leadership by states -- which are more in touch with their people’s needs -- avoids the specter of big federal government growth that other proposals suggest, and captures the momentum of state leadership on climate change that has been the biggest area of climate success in the past decade.


Q: What are some examples of other issues where federal-state partnerships have helped move to the needle?

PROFETA: Such partnerships occur throughout our law, from education to policing to health care.  In environmental law, it is similarly common, for instance with national water permitting programs run through the states.  But the most direct comparison is with the Clean Air Act, where the EPA sets national standards for air quality but each state develops plans to reach those ambitions.  The Clean Air Act has been one of our most successful environmental statutes, dramatically cleaning the air over the past 50 years in a period of robust economic growth.

Read more: Tim Profeta describes his proposal in a recent op-ed in The Hill. Find more details in his recent policy brief on the issue.