Energy and Environmental Economics and Policy Seminar

When October 21, 2020, 12:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Where Zoom:

Contact Persons with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact Beth Tamminga at 814-863-7091 in advance of the seminar.

Hannah Wiseman, Professor of Law, Professor and Wilson Faculty Fellow in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Institutes of Energy and the Environment Co-funded Faculty, Penn State  


The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of regional governing entities, yet they are an entrenched part of our federalist system. Some regional governance operates at a point between the levels of local, state, and federal control. For example, local governments sometimes coordinate with each other (“horizontally”) to address urban sprawl or shared infrastructural issues. Other, more complex regional institutions involve both horizontal and vertical coordination, in which governments at one level work together but also implement federal mandates. In the area of electric grid governance, the federal government enlists entities called regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, to implement federal policy and achieve state energy goals. This regional cooperative federalism is a twist on the classic form of cooperative governance, in which the federal government delegates authority to states to achieve federal mandates.   

Widespread reliance on regional cooperative federalism in a critical policy area calls for a fresh look at longstanding federalism principles. The regional entities at the heart of this Article—RTOs—are less decentralized than states. Indeed, the largest RTO covers all or part of the territories of fifteen states. Yet in many respects, RTOs better achieve the core federalism principles ascribed to more decentralized control, including policy experimentation and innovation, efficiency, and accountability to stakeholders, among other values. In other respects, however, they fail along these metrics.  

Policy experimentation and innovation, in particular, are more likely to occur when top-down and bottom-up authorities establish an end goal and push for coordinated innovation toward that goal, as occurs within RTOs. Regional implementation of federal grid mandates is also efficient both in terms of reducing the costs of governance and providing an optimal level of services to constituents. But in the accountability sphere, some RTO policies have seemingly ignored the strong preferences of RTO members, demonstrating the difficulty of simultaneously meeting the demands of diverse federal, state, and individual entities within one regional organization.