Greenhouse-Gas Limits Gain Steam in States
By Eric Kelderman
The White House and Congress are miles apart over proposals to stop global warming, but the debate is over in many states that are moving aggressively to curb greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.
Nearly half of the states are pursuing at least one of three main strategies to curb the burning of fossil fuels, a chief source of gases linked to global warming: cleaning up smokestacks, reducing auto exhaust or reaping more power from the sun and wind.
Last month, the Washington Legislature passed a measure similar to a landmark 2006 California law to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and other industries to 1990 levels by 2020. Minnesota and New Hampshire this year set the highest goals for producing environment-friendly electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy — 25 percent by 2025. And Maryland just became the 12th state to mandate California’s stringent auto emissions standards.
Governors and state legislators are driven not just by green goals but also by a large dose of pragmatism. What’s good for the environment also can be good for a state’s economy, such as championing alternative energy to create jobs, protecting natural resources that would be harmed by global warming and keeping a lid on rising fuel prices that hit consumers and businesses alike.
“I don’t just want wind farms. I want companies that build turbines. I want hybrid-vehicle companies to consult us on conservation strategies. I want companies that design solar panels,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) told the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor and renewable-energy advocates promoting clean power as an economic engine.
Julia Bovey, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental advocacy group, said states clearly are leading the federal government on the issue of global warming. But the scope of the problem requires a national federal policy not a patchwork of varying state laws, she said.
The chief challenge is how to curb carbon dioxide, the same gas exhaled by humans but released into the atmosphere in huge amounts with the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gasoline. Scientists have concluded that steep increases in fossil-fuel burning have warmed the Earth’s atmosphere, in what is called a greenhouse effect, with the potential to change the planet’s climate.
California is at the cutting edge with its requirement to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial sources 25 percent over the next 13 years. The California law also has implications beyond its borders because utilities will be required to purchase power from out-of-state plants that meet the emissions goals. Washington state is poised to follow suit with a bill passed in April.
On both coasts, states also are joining in regional “cap-and-trade” agreements that cap the amount of greenhouse gases that power plants can produce and allow polluters to buy and sell credits earned through extra reductions, creating economic incentives to cut emissions.
On the East Coast, Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year joined eight other states in a plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2019.
In February, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon agreed to join California and Washington state in a “cap-and-trade” system that will develop its emissions goals by August 2007.
Fears of global warming also have rejuvenated interest in renewable energy requirements that states began imposing more a decade ago to cut dependence on imported oil and gas and to reduce polluting coal-plant emissions. Citing global warming, Minnesota and New Hampshire this year joined 20 states in requiring utilities to get a percentage of their electricity from environment-friendly sources such as wind and solar power. Colorado and New Mexico this year have doubled previous requirements of clean electricity to 20 percent by 2020.
Nationwide, the renewable requirements will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions an estimated 108 million metric tons by 2020 — equivalent to removing nearly 18 million cars from the nation’s roads, according to the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit environmental think-tank.
California in 2002 was the first to go after auto emissions to curtail greenhouses gases. Now 11 other states have agreed to copy the Golden State’s requirement that cars curb carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent by the 2016 model year.
While a group of automakers is challenging California’s standards in three federal district courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on April 3 that the Environmental Protection Agency was wrong to refuse to regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant. That decision improves chances that the EPA will approve the law in California, the only state allowed to write stricter car-emission standards than the federal government.
Governors are aiming to improve the business climate in their states as well as the earth’s atmosphere, said Michael Fedor, a spokesman for an alliance of wind and solar advocates as well as ranching, farming and forestry associations. Fedor’s organization, the “25 X 25” group, is promoting the goal that 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs will be met by renewable energy by 2025.
In fact, there are big bucks to be made in the new energy economy. Wind energy companies spent $4 billion in 2006 as the nation’s installed wind-generation capacity grew 27 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Next year, wind energy is expected to grow 26 percent, according to the association.
State actions now are building pressure on the new Democratic majority in Congress to take action against global warming. At least six bills for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions have been introduced in the U.S. Senate this year, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan, has held a dozen hearings on the prospect of climate-change legislation.
While President Bush has acknowledged the “serious problem of global-climate change,” he has questioned how much human activity has contributed to the earth’s rising temperature and so far has rejected government mandates to cut carbon dioxide.
Several governors, on the other hand, including some of Bush’s fellow Republicans, not only acknowledge the potential catastrophic effects of global warming but also are leading advocates for government intervention. At least 16 governors this year proposed efforts to stanch climate change in their state of the state addresses, according to the National Governors Association.
That includes California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who banked his successful 2006 re-election in part on his actions to curb carbon-dioxide emissions. Even South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), a Southern conservative, launched a task force in February to determine not whether global warming exists, but how it how will impact the state and what steps could be taken to mitigate the problem. More than a dozen other states, from Alaska to Florida, have similar advisory groups.