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California among 33 states that reduced CO2 while growing its economy

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California on March 17, 2011.  Some of America's nuclear power plants loom near big city populations, or perch perilously close to earthquake fault lines. Others have aged past their expiration dates but keep churning anyway. President Barack Obama has demanded that the 104 nuclear reactors at 65 sites get a second look as scientists warn that current regulatory standards don't protect the US public from the kind of atomic fallout facing quake-hit Japan.                   AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County, California, on March 17, 2011. The plant will close within the next decade. A new Brookings Institution study questions how California will continue to make ambitious carbon reductions without nuclear power.

A new report from the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program has found that 33 states and Washington D.C. have managed to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions while simultaneously growing their economies.

Lead author Devashree Saha said her findings challenge assertions that efforts to fight global warming will necessarily hurt the economy -- a position taken frequently by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign. 

"Our research completely debunks that notion," Saha said. "The fact that 33 states and DC have managed to de-link economic growth from carbon emissions is a very encouraging trend. Though there is still a very huge gap from where we are and where we need to be. States need to ramp up and do more."

KPCC environment reporter Emily Guerin spoke with Saha about her study. An edited version of their conversation is below.

Interview highlights

Why did you want to do this study?

What did you find?
You use the word “decoupled” a lot in this study. What do you mean by that?
How important were state policies in helping those 33 states decrease their carbon emissions?
What about market forces? Natural gas prices have been low enough to prompt many power plant operators to make the switch from coal, which is twice as carbon intensive as natural gas.
Meanwhile California is shutting down its last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon.  
How does California compare to other states in your study?
Do you expect the trend you identified in these 33 states to continue under the Trump administration? 
Do you think your study will change anyone’s mind in the Trump administration? As someone who trades in facts and research, how do you feel right now, a time when facts seem to matter less than ever?