A regional approach to global warming
Romney joins group; environmentalists laud effort after US inaction
The Boston Globe, July 25, 2003
Governor Mitt Romney and five other Republican governors this week joined forces to tackle an issue that environmentalists say their fellow Republican, President Bush, has ducked: Curbing carbon dioxide emissions to control global warming. A total of 10 eastern states, convened by New York Governor George E. Pataki, plan to spend two years developing a regional market-based system to limit carbon emissions, in an acknowledgment that global warming is a current problem.
''Climate change is beginning to affect our natural resources and . . . now is the time to take action towards climate protection,'' Romney wrote in a letter to Pataki, sent Monday.
While the White House has acknowledged the effects of pollutants on climate change, it has downplayed the influence and questioned whether natural trends are more at play. Early in his administration, Bush angered environmentalists by backing out of the Kyoto accord -- an international treaty that called for the largest industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last month, the Bush administration was criticized for killing language on global warming in an EPA report on the state of the environment.
Yesterday, the White House announced a 10-year study on global warming that some derided as delaying action and obscuring the causes of a well-documented problem. The first goal of the White House study is to review the ''natural variability'' in climate change.
''I hate to compare my government with the tobacco industry, but that's what comes to mind,'' said William L. Pardee, Massachusetts assistant attorney general, alluding to the industry's stalling tactics against regulation of cigarettes.
Now, the governors themselves are taking action, and though they are treading lightly around the political issues, environmental advocates say their quiet boldness speaks to the scope of the problem. The United States is the world's leading producer of carbon dioxide, which many scientists believe is partly responsible for increasing the planet's temperature by one degree Fahrenheit over the last century. The Conservation Law Foundation in Boston reports that climate change is threatening New England weather conditions that shape colorful fall foliage, maple syrup production, and ski conditions, rendering climate change not just an environmental threat but an economic one.
''The leadership is coming from the bottom up here, with the US just botching the international treaty and federal government acting in a deeply incoherent manner,'' said Seth Kaplan,
director of the Clean Air and Climate Change Project at the Conservation Law Foundation.
Joining New York and Massachusetts were Republican governors from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the Democratic governors of Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Only Maryland balked at joining the two-year effort to create a ''cap-and-trade'' program that would allow power plants that successfully reduce carbon emissions to profit by selling pollution credits to other companies.
''It's a demonstration that the states recognize there are very cost-effective things we can be doing that actually help our economy, improve our environment, and deal with climate change. And those are things we are willing to do, regardless of national policy on this front,'' said Douglas Foy, head of the Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development.
Increasingly, states are taking global policy into their own hands. Last month, Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate carbon dioxide, arguing that inaction will lead to increased hardship for states grappling with the effects of climate change.
The White House opposes mandatory constraints on power plants that could raise costs for energy consumers, as well as utilities, said Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Though the White House welcomes states' approaches at limiting emissions, Perino said, ''we would be concerned about mandatory approaches that could stifle growth or cost American jobs.''
She pointed to Bush's voluntary goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent, as well as the president's hydrogen initiative and support of tax incentives for renewable energy.
New England states have long been more ambitious, forging an agreement with the eastern Canadian provinces to return carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2010 -- and even 10 percent lower by 2020. Massachusetts, like other states, is still working on its strategy for meeting those goals. Last month, Maine became the first among them to put the goals into law, committing the state to launching its strategy by next year.
Massachusetts has bucked the trend in Washington in the past. In 2001, when President Bush reversed his campaign pledge to contain power plants' carbon emissions, then-Acting Governor Jane Swift adopted ''Filthy Five'' regulations that require the state's oldest power plants, which are exempt from new emissions standards, to meet tougher regulations on carbon dioxide and three other pollutants.
Romney's communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the governor didn't join the regional plan to send a message to the White House. But he agreed that the effort has that potential. ''We hope the federal government will learn from our example and that other states will learn from our example,'' he said.
©Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.