Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

Srinivas Parinandi

Second Advisor

E. Scott Adler

Third Advisor

Laurie Gries


The world is warming at unnatural rates. Governments have responded with largely slow or insufficient policy to stop this potentially dangerous change. In the United States, where special interests, notably the oil and gas lobby, have incredible influence over federal policy and fight to maintain the status quo; little has been done to reduce carbon emissions. This lack of policy at the federal level has placed the responsibility on the states to act. Among the main policy actions states have utilized in promoting more renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This standard, which varies by state in its specifics, mandates that a certain percentage, by a predetermined year, of the energy portfolio within a state must come from renewable sources instead of from fossil fuels.

This study tests several variables within two main categories, economic and political, to determine which are most correlated to RPS adoption. To test economic factors, this study examined three variables: state unemployment rate, renewable energy production, and fossil fuels production. First, to test if unemployment levels influence adoption, annual data was collected on state unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Second, to test the impact of renewable energy production on adoption, this study used data from the Energy Information Administration. Similar data was used to test the correlation between fossil fuels production in a state and RPS adoption.

On the political side, two variables were tested. First, to test the impact of political ideology on RPS adoption, this study utilized information from the National Council of State Legislatures and the League of Conservation Voters. Second, the impact of state level campaign contributions on adoption was tested using data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Among the variables tested in this study, only high unemployment rates and liberal political ideology were significantly correlated with greater adoption of a Renewable Portfolio Standard. The other factors showed no strong relationship to RPS adoption.