Theses Doctoral

Building on Local Successes: The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and its Lessons for Federal Climate Policy

Watson, Siobhan T.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, holds important lessons for United States climate policy. A one-time infusion of funding given primarily to local governments to for the purpose of reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, the policy had important but uneven effects. Most recipients were able to show progress on energy efficiency goals to meet program requirements. But communities with pre-existing interest in and experience with climate and energy programs tended to multiply the effects of the funding, using it to launch long-term efforts or prove concepts in order to secure further funding and support. The dissertation shows the value of communities’ participation in voluntary policy initiatives related to climate and energy, as municipalities with even a small amount of related experience were better positioned to turn a one-time infusion of federal funding into long-lasting programs. At the same time, the program’s outcomes demonstrate the enduring power and influence of the federal government in achieving more widespread success, as municipalities that had not previously participated in climate and energy planning were generally unable to continue their work once federal funding was removed, even in the presence of local champions and demonstrated successes. The program also demonstrates that using federal grants-in-aid to accomplish policy goals has important limitations. Though EECBG grants often had a major impact on local policies, their uneven impact exposes the risk that grants-in-aid may further stratify local governments’ capacities in the policy areas to which they are applied. Rather than evening out the playing field, it is possible for such programs to increase the disparities between policy leaders and the rest. The dissertation points to the importance of tailoring federal programs to varying local needs and to the importance of building local differences into program evaluations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Sclar, Elliott
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 5, 2020