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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Benjamin Deitchman
November 8, 2016
In the United States, each state has its own unique economic, political and energy resources, and thus each state has its own unique state energy office (SEO). An analysis of SEOs administrative location—based on the membership of the National Association of State Energy Officials as of the end of October 2015—shows the variety of bureaucratic structures overseeing the clean energy functions at this level of governance. Based on the count, 20 states have an energy department that exists separate from any other form of state agency. These include 13 standalone departments (Alaska, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) and six states (Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Utah) that have an office that specifies direct reporting to the governor (for example, the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development). Delaware, with its Division of Clean Energy and Climate, is the only SEO to explicitly indicate a climate function in its office title.
In 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wyoming), the energy office is part of an economic development or commerce agency. This indicates the connection within the state institutions between energy and economic development which is a critical component of clean energy programs. As far as other dimensions of energy policy, there are seven states that place the SEO in an environmental protection, finance or conservation office (Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee). In Louisiana and New Mexico, the SEO is part of a natural resources department. In Florida, it falls under the leadership of an agricultural director. South Dakota’s small office is part of the administration department.
In five states, the SEO is part of an entity not accountable to the governor as the highest elected official. In Texas, a state where many executive offices are elected separately from the governor, the SEO is under the comptroller. In four states (Kanas, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Vermont), the SEO is part of the public utility commission (PUC) or a similar entity. This means that the clean energy programmatic function and regulatory structure of the electric and natural gas industries are under the same authority from these often semi-autonomous and quasi-judicial entities of state government.
These office structures are not static. A 2009 survey of SEOs indicated 20 percent of SEOs had an independent or direct report to the governor energy office. This grew to 40 percent in 2015 with the increased resources and attention toward energy policy and energy technology deployment efforts. Newly elected governors often look to reformulate the bureaucracy to showcase new priorities and programs. Each governor arrives in office with his or her own policy goals and political ambitions.
In his famous case study of governance in Who Governs?, Robert Dahl’s scholarship adds the role of the politician for developing an understanding of leadership. Gubernatorial style is an area ripe for scholarly analysis. As published in Political Psychology, Margaret R. Ferguson and Jay Barth studied gubernatorial personality in the legislative arena and found that motivation for power and achievement—measured through statements in inaugural addresses—drive leadership in working with the state Legislature. They conclude,
“Recognition that the personality of individual governors . . . significantly affects policymaking provides an important insight into American politics more generally. That is, any attempt to explain executive/legislative outcomes is underspecified absent such personality variables.”
Institutional factors of the legislature, political factors, and even timing within the term and other factors outside the control of the individuals in the executive branch lead to success or failure in moving an agenda.
The SEO also is not the only state executive branch office that holds energy-related responsibility. For example, in some states, housing departments manage low-income weatherization programs and administration departments run lead-by-example activities, in which states attempt to deploy new clean energy technologies to encourage their citizens, businesses and other organizations to follow suit. Any department that oversees environmental compliance, manages transportation or even operates buildings may partner, collaborate or otherwise engage in energy policy functions.
The structure of state government is complex and dynamic. It is boundedly rational within the political and bureaucratic state, but it is not always easy for stakeholders and the general public to understand the rationale behind its organization. The administration of energy programs impacts the policies in the state and the policies shape the administration. Each SEO tells a story and that story will shape the future of American energy policy.
Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. This article is derived from his forthcoming book, Climate and Clean Energy Policy: State Institutions and Economic Implications. His email address is [email protected].