While most literature on federal climate change policies has focused on failures to adopt broad policies, this article describes and explains successes in two important sectors. Regulations to improve the fuel economy of motor vehicles and efficiency standards for appliances and equipment have produced substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions although they largely have other goals and hence can be considered implicit climate policies.
We synthesize existing literature with our analyses of case studies to offer three explanations for the adoption of effective sectoral policies in these two sectors. First, the policies delivered politically popular co-benefits such as reducing consumers’ energy bills, enhancing energy security, and promoting public health. Second, they gained business acceptance because they were narrow in their scope, avoided long-term economic costs, and helped industry to cope with state-level regulations. Industry often strategically decided to try to influence policies rather than resist them. Third, the legislation that initiated and expanded these policies received bipartisan support, which was aided by co-benefits and business acceptance, while more recently, they have been strengthened through the actions of Democratic administrations. We conclude by comparing these policy areas to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.