NCEL Legislative Session Preview

2020 Legislative Session Preview

January 21, 2020 | Legislation We Expect To See Trending Across State Capitals



NCEL Point of Contact

Taylor Anderson
Communications Director


Looking back, 2019 was a huge year for state environmental policy. States passed landmark legislation to reduce plastic pollution, limit expanded offshore drilling, and protect wildlife and wildlands. With so much progress made last year, we’re excited to see what states will do in 2020!

Here are the policies that we expect to see trending in state legislatures across the country.

Climate and Energy

Clean Energy and Climate Resilience – To date, eight states have made goals of transitioning to 100% clean energy. This number will continue to increase as the impacts of climate change become more apparent in our daily lives. In addition to states transitioning to 100% clean energy, states are also working on climate resilience efforts. As natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, states are looking at ways to prepare for them. 

Green Jobs – Part of the transition to clean energy economy involves bolstering the creation of green jobs. Many states have started considering bills aimed at supporting the workforce transition (Illinois, New York, Maine) and more will certainly follow. You can learn more about these through our blog series about the Green New Deal for States.

EVs – The transportation sector recently became the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As such, increasing the use and accessibility of electric vehicles is a key component in reducing transportation emissions. Last year was a year of growth for EVs and this trend should continue as states incentivize this transition by issuing tax rebates, improving charging infrastructure, and converting state fleets and school buses to be electric.

Offshore Drilling – The federal government has currently proposed opening over 90% of America’s coast to drilling, and states are pushing back. States have the authority to control water within three miles off the coast as well as permitting and construction of any infrastructure. In 2019, five states passed bans against offshore drilling while 11 states considered bills in total. In 2020, more states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast will continue pushing for bans on offshore drilling.

Carbon Pricing and TCI – The idea of putting a price on carbon is still viewed as a highly effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, Oregon came close to passing its cap and trade bill, and their effort will continue in 2020 during the short session. Northeastern states are also considering a new program to put a price on and reduce transportation emissions called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). The draft plan was announced in December 2019 and will be considered and reviewed throughout 2020.


Wildlife Corridors – Wildlife corridors are proven to be a vital and cost-effective way of maintaining resilient ecosystems and protecting public health and safety on our roadways. Corridors are natural areas that connect core habitat ensuring connected landscapes for wildlife to move and migrate freely. In 2019, four states passed bills related to wildlife corridors and crossings. To date in 2020, at least three states will be considering corridor legislation.

Pollinators – Pollinators across the country continue to be threatened by changing climates and habitat and toxic pesticides. States can take action to protect pollinator species through awareness, funding for habitat, and restrictions of neonicotinoids. For example, in 2019  Minnesota passed a Lawns to Legumes program to encourage pollinator-friendly lawns. This is a program ripe for replication across the nation. Many states will consider pollinator protection bills in 2020.

Wildlife Issues – A majority of wildlife species are now facing critical changes to habitat and health because of human development, impacts from changing climate, and disease. Many states are stepping up to tackle difficult issues such as CWD, funding for wildlife, habitat conservation and restoration, coexistence with carnivores, invasive species, and ethical issues such as killing contests, running down animals, and wanton waste. We are seeing and expect to see bills in each of these issue areas during the 2020 session.

Water Scarcity – Water scarcity has historically been a Western issue, but it is becoming a problem for the whole nation due to climate change. During 2019, we heard legislators increasingly bring up this issue as something for their state to address. In 2020 and the coming years, states will be increasingly looking for ways to confront water scarcity issues legislatively. These policies could include state water plans, water district planning and efficiency requirements, limiting the impacts of domestic wells, and establishing a human right to water.

Outdoor Recreation and Access – The benefits of time outside range from improved wellbeing to educational opportunities. States are establishing Offices of Outdoor Recreation along with implementing programs focused on equity and environmental education to ensure all residents experience these benefits. In 2019, New Mexico passed the nation’s first Outdoor Recreation Equity Fund, included in their Office of Outdoor Recreation, to help get low-income and disadvantaged youth outside. Many states, such as Minnesota and Nevada, have created grant programs to provide funding for public entities or nonprofits that connect kids with nature. These policies are likely to spread to more states in 2020.

Looking for ways to promote youth outdoor engagement in your state? Check out the Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook complete with innovative policy ideas from states across the country.

Environmental Health

Plastic pollution – During 2019, five states passed legislation to ban plastic bags, three states passed legislation to ban polystyrene, and Vermont led the nation by passing a ban on plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene. Washington established a study that will assess the impacts of plastics and help to implement and show the value of extended producer responsibility. 

With the monumental progress made in 2019, we look forward to states continuing to #breakfreefromplastic during 2020. States will continue to push for bans of plastic bags and polystyrene but also look towards comprehensive bans such as Vermont’s. Vermont, California, and other states are also pushing for extended producer responsibility bills to help move us towards a circular economy.

Toxic chemicals – States have taken increasingly stronger action to limit PFAS. These chemicals are used in a variety of consumer products including non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, firefighting foams, and food packaging. In 2019 many states banned PFAS in firefighting foam. Washington passed a landmark bill that would prioritize regulatory action on consumer products containing PFAS and a suite of other chemicals. Throughout 2020, many states will continue efforts of regulating PFAS to protect public health. We will also continue to watch federal action on PFAS.

Health of the Mississippi River – Following the historic floods of 2019, Mississippi River states are focused on finding solutions to reduce flood impacts. This includes exploring options to increase and protect natural infrastructure such as wetlands and marshes. NCEL staff conducted a river tour to meet with legislators and learn first-hand about river health and expect to see states pursuing legislation to increase flood resilience and sustainable agriculture.