Climate Change, Consumption, and Cities

By Kaswan, Alice | Fordham Urban Law Journal, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Climate Change, Consumption, and Cities


Kaswan, Alice, Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction
I. Beyond Symptoms: Addressing Consumption
      A. Land Use and Transportation
      B. Buildings and Energy Consumption
II. The Limits of Existing Federal Initiatives
      A. Proposed Federal Legislation
      B. The Limited Role of the Market in Reducing VMT
      C. The Limited Role of the Market in Increasing Building
         Efficiency
         1. Utility Demand-Reduction Programs
         2. Direct Market Pressures
III. The Local Role in Addressing Consumption
      A. Types of Local Initiatives to Reduce Energy Demand
      B. Institutional Justifications for Local Control
      C. The Local Commitment
IV. Impediments to Local Action
      A. Collective Action Impediments to Local Initiatives
      B. Political, Economic, and Social Disincentives to Local
         Action
      C. Federal and State Obstacles to Local Action
V. Vertical Integration: Local Action in a Federal, State, and
      Regional Context
      A. Federal Legislation and State Implementation Planning
      B. The Division of Responsibility Between the State and
         Local Level
      C. Devolution to the Regional or Local Level?
      D. Mandates or Discretion?
VI. A Comprehensive Socioeconomic Approach to Land Use
      A. The Importance of Socioeconomic Factors in Achieving
         VMT Reductions
      B. Beyond Demand Management: Achieving Regional Equity
      C. Meaningful Participation
Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

As proposals for federal climate change legislation proliferate, national policymakers are focused on a cap-and-trade program for controlling greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions. I argue that successfully reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will require reductions in energy consumption, and that a trading system's market signals will be insufficient to prompt the widespread transformations in land use and building efficiency necessary to reduce energy demand.

Nor will federal action alone suffice. Familiar federalism principles suggest why cities and regional entities present distinct institutional advantages in addressing consumption given the key role of local land use and "green" building strategies in reducing demand. Notwithstanding many cities' active endorsement of ambitious climate change goals, most cities are unlikely to act solely on their own initiative. The challenge for federal lawmakers is to design a vertically integrated climate change policy that establishes and coordinates the federal, state, and local role in reducing energy consumption.

Given the interrelatedness of environmental, political, social, and economic factors that are implicated in land use decisions, federal requirements for state and local governments to engage in land use planning to reduce vehicle-miles-travelled ("VMT") must address the socioeconomic drivers of land use decisions. Focusing on socioeconomic factors is warranted not only as an instrumental mechanism for increasing the success of VMT-reducing reforms. As state and local governments open the door to new metropolitan visions, they create a unique opportunity to achieve regional equity.

Part I of this Article highlights the nation's high level of energy consumption and argues that policies directed solely at tailpipes and smokestacks will fail to reach climate change goals. High emissions are a consequence of high demand, and policies to reduce demand, like green building requirements and land use reforms that reduce VMT, will be necessary to reach emission reduction goals.

Part II of this Article observes that recently proposed federal legislation does not sufficiently address consumption. While many of the federal bills propose market mechanisms that are likely to generate price signals that could incentivize less sprawling growth and greener buildings, Part II identifies numerous obstacles to generating sufficient change through the market alone.

Part III argues that direct local land use and green building measures can and should play a critical role in reducing demand. …

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