The state of play in the states

PIRG and Environment America’s networks of state organizations have scored our first big victories of the 2023 state legislative season — and we’re just getting started.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public domain; Pxhere, public domain; Kevin Digga, Adobe Stock | TPIN

With our encouragement, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy put the Garden State on the road to zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035, and Minnesota became the first midwestern state to commit to achieve 100% clean power by 2040. This is especially welcome news given the likelihood of congressional gridlock on climate and energy this session.

As a former New Jersey PIRG advocate, former CALPIRG state director and current senior director of PIRG and Environment America’s state operations, I can personally attest to the power of states to make a positive difference. Now, with state legislative sessions in full swing around the country — and some already drawing to a close — I want to draw your attention to some themes that emerge from PIRG and our state environmental groups’ respective legislative agendas:

States continue to do heavy lifting on climate, with the electrification of homes and commercial buildings and the expansion of rooftop solar moving to center stage.

Together with our allies, PIRG and Environment America’s state groups have made meaningful climate progress:

  • Thanks to our work, 11 states and counting have committed to reach 100% clean power by 2045 or sooner.

  • The work that State PIRGs and environmental groups did to champion California’s groundbreaking Clean Cars standards, bringing them to 12 more states and helping to convince President Obama to adopt the standards nationally, laid the groundwork for this decade’s progress toward all-electric car sales in California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington state and now New Jersey.

As we continue our work to decarbonize the power grid and electrify transportation, it’s time to begin turning the nation’s attention to another major source of climate-altering pollution: the buildings we live and work in.

Analysis shows that electrifying the vast majority of America’s residences and commercial spaces by 2050 could reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from those sectors by about 306 million metric tons in 2050, the equivalent of removing three times the number of gas-powered cars on Texas roads.

That’s why Environment America and PIRG’s state organizations are working to advance building electrification in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts,  New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state while also stopping attacks on building electrification efforts in Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

And in California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state, we’re campaigning for policies that put more solar on the roofs of homes, businesses, schools, warehouses and superstores — so that building electrification can be powered by clean, renewable energy.

When it comes to efforts to move the U.S. beyond single-use plastic, the action is in the states.

Every year, more Americans agree: Nothing we use for five minutes and then throw away should pollute our environment and harm wildlife for hundreds of years. And every year, more Americans are demanding a permanent end to single-use plastic at the state level, and more Americans are seeing results.

PIRG and Environment America’s in-state leadership has developed expertise in winning progress that spreads from state to state, starting with the Bottle Bill recycling programs of the 1970s and 80s:

  • Since 2019, our state groups have helped convince eight states to ban single-use plastic bags and restrict plastic straws, as well as seven states to ban single-use foam cups and containers.

  • Last year, with our strong support, California and Colorado joined Maine and Oregon in a visionary statewide policy innovation: placing the burden of paying for the cleanup of plastic pollution onto plastic manufacturers, thereby discouraging the production of more throwaway plastic.

From expanding the Bottle Bill in Massachusetts to winning the next statewide “producer responsibility” program in Washington state, every state PIRG or environmental group that’s released their 2023 agendas so far is prioritizing campaigns that help ensure states will keep leading the way to a future where our communities and natural world are free of plastic pollution.

Right To Repair is bringing people together from across the political spectrum.

It’s common sense: Farmers in rural areas need their equipment to work, and millions of consumers would much rather fix their phones, tablets, motorized wheelchairs and more when they break than pay for a replacement and add to a growing mountain of electronic waste.

Together with PIRG and our allies in the independent repair community, people of all political stripes are coming together to call for a Right To Repair, or access to the parts, tools and information we need to fix our own stuff. As of early February, Right to Repair legislation has been filed in 20 states and counting, from blue California to red Texas.

We’re encouraged not just by the success of the Right To Repair movement — which scored statewide victories last year for wheelchair repair in Colorado and digital electronics repair in New York — but also by the way our work on this issue maintains cross-party appeal. That’s how we set the stage for more progress in the states and elsewhere.

Six right to repair advocates holding signs that say
Willie Cade | TPIN
Advocates from NCPIRG, and local farmers testified at a hearing on agricultural Right to Repair in North Carolina.

As PIRG and Environment America’s state groups pursue state-level progress in legislatures nationwide, I’m heartened to see some of our biggest victories from 2022 go into effect as of January, including California’s lead-free faucets law, Colorado’s Wheelchair Right to Repair law, and key provisions of Massachusetts’ landmark 2022 climate law.

We look forward to making more progress this year. See the 2023 state legislative agendas we’ve published to date:

Alaska Environment • CALPIRG • Environment California • Illinois PIRG • Maryland PIRG • MASSPIRG • PennEnvironment • North Carolina PIRG • OSPIRG • Environment Oregon • Environment Texas • Environment Virginia • WashPIRG • Environment Washington

Thank you to Gov. Murphy and Minnesota’s state leaders for your contributions to clean energy and transportation progress, and congratulations to our allies in New Jersey and Minnesota.


Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network

Emily is the senior director for state organizations for The Public Interest Network. She works nationwide with the state group directors for PIRG and Environment America to help them build stronger organizations and achieve greater success. Emily was the executive director for CALPIRG from 2009-2021, overseeing a myriad of CALPIRG campaigns to protect public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, and promote a robust democracy. Emily works in our Oakland, California, office, and loves camping, hiking, gardening and cooking with her family.