Business Power in the U.S. States: Organized Interests and the Design of GHG Emissions Reduction Policies

Joshua A. Basseches, University of Michigan

If business lobbying power explains the lack of federal climate policy in the United States (even before Trump, and when Democrats controlled Congress), then why have a number of U.S. states succeeded in adopting climate policies despite political scientists' (e.g. Anzia, Hertel-Fernandez, McConnell) expectation that business interests are even more influential when it comes to influencing state-level policy compared to when it comes to influencing federal policy? This paper maps out the varying preferences and influence of private interests in three U.S. states that adopted economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and renewable portfolio standards -- two common state-level climate policy tools -- that varied significantly in their ambitiousness, enforceability and effectiveness. In order to do this, I trace each policy's history in each of the three states, and combine a close analysis of each iteration of legislative and regulatory text with thousands of pages of archival material and over 100 interviews with state legislators, regulators and lobbyists involved in each policy's formulation. I find that private interests can be sorted into three broad categories characterized by their preferences and influence when it comes to the design of these policies. Variation in the preferences of one of these categories, investor-owned utility companies, and variation in the relative influence of the other two, explain the divergent policy outcomes across the three states. It turns out that when it comes to the preferences of private actors, the design of the policy is just as important as whether or not it passes. The findings of this paper have implications for scholarship on climate politics and policy in the U.S., U.S. state politics, and issues of private power and democratic representation in American democracy.

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 Presented in Session 238. Policy and Society in the United States