Monday, June 6, 2016

Sub-national Climate and Environmental Legislation in the US and Canada

States, provinces and municipalities in North America are showing environmental and climate leadership. Recently an American state and a Canadian province passed the continents most progressive climate and environmental legislation. Early in June the New York State Assembly passed the most ambitious climate bill in the country and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia a law was introduced into the provincial legislature that enshrines environmental rights into law.

As reported by Think Progress, the New York state climate bill, known as the "Climate and Community Protection Act," would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters (those that emit 25,000 tons or more) and big power (23 megawatts or larger) to zero by 2050.

The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has previously indicated that he would like the state to get 50 percent of its electric power from renewable sources by 2030. At the end of 2015 Cuomo mandated the New York Department of Public Service to draw up plans to achieve these goals. The bill sets out a timeline and codifies the transition to renewables into law. It requires the state to get 27 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2017. This increases to almost a third (30 percent) by 2020, forty percent by 2025, and 50 percent by 2030.

The environmentally focused bill also is working to address social issues in part by providing jobs in marginalized communities. Under the act, representatives from the environmental justice community and some government agencies will guide climate decisions to ensure that the impact on the low-income and minority communities is minimized.

However, the bill has not made it to the state Senate and the legislative session is winding down. If its passes New York may join states like California and Oregon in passing green legislation. It should be noted that Washington also appears poised to crack down on polluters with its own clean air legislation.

As explained in the Huffington Post, the government in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced legislation that affords legal recognition of environmental rights including the right of citizens to live in a healthy environment.

Early in June Bill 178, the Environmental Bill of Rights was introduced into the provincial legislature. If passed into law it would advance the cause of environmental justice. The proposed law would create a new environmental commissioner, this individual would lead an independent oversight body in Nova Scotia.

Ultimately the bill would spawn environmental policies, laws and regulations that would tighten the screws on big polluters. There is already progressive environmental legislation in Ontario and in other Canadian provinces and territories. Even Alberta, the oil capital of Canada, has passed some dramatic climate legislation.

Environmental rights are a big issue all across Canada. In fact 85 percent of Canadians support the right to a healthy environment. There are already more than 130 municipalities representing more than a third of Canada's population, that have adopted declarations supporting the human right to healthy environment.

As evidenced by these examples, sub-national climate and environmental legislation is a trend that is growing stronger.

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