Energy & Environment

Say Hello to Kyoto

Global warming is being addressed by the states.
by | September 2005

The federal government has shown little inclination to address the issue of global warming. The Kyoto treaty is a dead letter in the U.S. Senate, and the big energy bill passed in July barely mentioned climate change.

The states do not share Washington's indifference. Despite a loss in a suit brought by a dozen states and several localities to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from cars, states and localities are stepping into the void. The U.S. Conference of Mayors in June adopted a resolution calling on Congress and the states to meet the pollution-reduction targets set by the Kyoto treaty and pledging to improve environmental practices in their cities.

In addition, individual states are setting their own targets for emissions reductions. "You have a lot more states getting concerned," says Judi Greenwald, of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, "and they're turning concern into action."

Maine, for instance, enacted a pair of laws this year addressing climate issues, including a mandated conservation program for gas utilities. Connecticut rewrote its tax code to encourage citizens to purchase low-emission cars and penalize those who buy gas guzzlers. Several states have created new climate-change advisory groups.

Two governors--Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Bill Richardson in New Mexico--have called for specific reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions that they expect their states to meet in the coming years. Schwarzenegger signed an executive order in June setting goals for the state to reduce its emissions by 2010 below levels reached in 2000, and by 2050, to be at 80 percent of the amount spewed in 1990. He has appointed a cabinet-level task force to work out the details.

But despite these ambitious goals, the details in Schwarzenegger's order don't include any real mandates. A large part of his message is that the economy won't have to suffer from changes in energy consumption and improvements in greenhouse-gas technology. "Success will depend on whether agencies and the legislature can match the governor's vision, or whether they will become weak-kneed in the face of industry pressure," says Danielle Fugere, climate program director for Bluewater Network in San Francisco.

The California legislature may well rise to the challenge. State Representative Fran Pavley introduced a bill this summer that calls for reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions from stationary sources (for which read power plants). The bill is a sequel, of sorts, to Pavley's landmark 2002 law requiring California's air-quality board to come up with specific regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from automobile and light-truck tailpipes.

That law was quickly copied in several other states, but has been tied up in litigation ever since its initial passage. If it is upheld, Pavley's law and its progeny could have an enormous impact on air pollution and greenhouse gases and likely spur greater momentum toward more regulations with real teeth.

"I expect in the sessions next year, and especially after the elections next year, that we're going to see an explosion of state legislative action on global warming," says Leon Billings, a former Maryland state delegate, who is now the president of the Clean Air Trust.

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