On Global Warming, States Act Locally
At Odds With Bush's Rejection of Mandatory Cuts, Governors and Legislatures Enact Curbs on Greenhouse Gases
The Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2002
TRENTON, N.J. -- With the Bush administration and Congress deadlocked over how best to combat the mounting threat of global warming, state officials across the country are taking matters into their own hands.
California Gov. Gray Davis (D) has signed landmark legislation aimed at sharply reducing automobile and truck emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that many scientists say are the chief culprit in the earth's rising temperature. New Hampshire has enacted regulations of its own to combat rising temperatures in a bid to protect its colorful maple forests and lucrative syrup industry.
Here in New Jersey, state officials are emphasizing incentives and covenants to encourage utilities, manufacturers, colleges and even churches to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The collective impact of these state efforts is relatively minor compared with the worldwide dimensions of the problem. Yet state officials and environmentalists say they highlight a failure in Washington to address global warming.
"We're obviously very concerned that the federal government seems to be abdicating its responsibility to address the threat of global climate change," said Bradley M. Campbell, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "By contrast, there is bipartisan support among governors . . . to address the issue in a serious way."
More than half the states have adopted voluntary or mandatory programs for reducing carbon emissions in recent years, according to a new study that will be released this week by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Fifteen states, including President Bush's home state of Texas, have enacted legislation requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable energy sources such as wind power or biomass in generating a portion of their overall electricity.
"The trend is unmistakably towards more states taking an active role in climate change," said Barry G. Rabe, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Michigan and chief author of the Pew study.
Bush last year abandoned a campaign pledge to seek mandatory cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and instead has advocated a series of voluntary measures. Last Tuesday's election, which returned control of the Senate to the Republicans and increased the GOP majority in the House, further strengthened the president's hand in resisting tough measures for combating global warming.
"I don't think there is a leadership vacuum on this," said Joe Martyak, a spokesman for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey. "The president outlined a program on this that he put out last February," one that has prompted a number of companies to voluntarily begin to reduce their emissions.
The National Academy of Sciences last year described global warming as a "real and particularly strong" problem caused at least in part by man-made pollution, which that could well have a "serious adverse" impact on weather patterns and sea levels by the end of the century.
Many state officials consider global warming a direct threat to their economies and their citizens' health. Coastal states are concerned about possible links to rising sea levels. Agricultural states pummeled by drought or flooding fear that global warming may be contributing to the problem.
Some industrial states have begun curbing plant emissions to be ready in case the federal government eventually imposes mandatory controls on utilities and other industries. Still other states that can harness wind, biomass or solar energy see a national shift to cleaner burning renewable fuels as a potential economic bonanza for them. Only a few states with large industrial bases, including Michigan and Ohio, have staunchly resisted carbon dioxide controls.
Many state programs have been underway for years but were stepped up last year after Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 climate treaty supported by the Clinton administration that has been ratified by most of the world's major industrial countries. Bush said that the treaty would harm the U.S. economy and complained that many of the leading developing countries, including China and India, would not be bound by the restrictions. Without the participation of the United States -- which produces a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases -- experts say the treaty's mandatory targets will have little effect.
So states have plunged ahead:
· California will have new regulations by 2006 to reduce car and truck emissions that, if they survive a challenge expected from the auto industry, could be a model for New York, New Jersey and other Northeast states.
· Texas has moved to ensure that 3 to 4 percent of its electricity will come from renewable energy sources, especially wind power, by the end of the decade.
· Massachusetts was the first state to formally target reductions in power-plant emissions of carbon dioxide, part of broader regulations to control pollution from six major coal- and oil-burning facilities.
· New Hampshire has approved emission controls for the state's three aging coal-fired electric generating plants.
· Nebraska was the first to enact legislation linking agricultural policy with greenhouse gas emission. By altering crop planting schemes, Nebraska and other states can increase the amount of plants and trees that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Officials are optimistic about long-term
opportunities for farmers to be paid to store more carbon in their soil.
· New Jersey has taken a much broader approach. In 1998, the Republican administration of Whitman, who was then governor, set a goal of reducing total greenhouse gases 3.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2005. A charge was added to consumers' utility bills that raised $358 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. State officials scanned the horizon for innovations and experimented with a pollution credit trading program with the Netherlands.
Perhaps the most visible initiatives are pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by New Jersey's 56 colleges and universities; by a few major corporations; by a coalition of nine religious denominations and more than 6,000 congregations; by public schools; and by the state's dominant utility, the Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.
A central tenet was that the program was to be voluntary.
Recently, however, the state has begun to take a much harder line. Last January, officials prodded a division of PSEG to fold its pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions into a larger legally binding consent decree that settled a case on the Clean Air Act. The utility giant must reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels within four years or pay as much as $1.5 million in penalties. "There was a strong desire on New Jersey's part to have a climate change component to the settlement, and it was consistent with our own company's advocacy," said Mark Brownstein, PSEG Service Co.'s director of environmental strategy.
The current administration of Gov. James E. McGreevey (D) is working on other tough measures, including increasing the state's use of renewable energy, building more energy-efficient public schools, and requiring utilities and large manufacturers to report periodically their emissions of
carbon dioxide. The reporting requirement would mark an important step toward possible mandatory state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
"It's encouraging to see so much state activity, particularly in light of the leadership vacuum in Washington," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew center. "But in the long run, state programs are no substitute for a comprehensive national policy."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company