Washington State joins the West's war on warming
Five governors target pollution
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 27, 2007
Gov. Chris Gregoire and four other Western governors vowed Monday to join forces to reduce emissions of planet-warming pollution.
The leaders of Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and New Mexico formed the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, which sets out to:
* Create a regional target for reducing greenhouse gases within six months.
* Establish over the next 18 months a mechanism for meeting that target, which may mean creating a cap-and-trade system that would allow utilities or businesses that are beating the target to sell others the right to pollute.
* Create a five-state registry for tracking and managing greenhouse gas emissions.
Earlier this month, Gregoire and Democratic lawmakers announced an executive order and legislation that outlined plans for reducing global warming. Those efforts -- which include cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 -- are still moving ahead.
"Our legislation and the governor's regional leadership are dovetailing very nicely right now," said Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle.
An international panel of scientists recently concluded that it's "very likely" that manmade pollution primarily from the burning of fossil fuels is warming the world. In the Northwest, that's expected to mean warmer weather, higher sea levels, less snow and more forest fires.
Citing a leadership void at the national level, the governors -- who were attending the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C. -- announced their plan.
The initiative is not without precedent. In 2003, a coalition of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states teamed up to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Eleven states are now part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Also that year, Washington, Oregon and California created the West Coast Global Warming Initiative, which had more modest goals and seemed to lose steam when two of the three governors involved left office.
In the meantime, California has charged ahead, firmly establishing itself as a national leader on global warming issues. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed an executive order pledging carbon dioxide cuts 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The state also has approved tough emissions standards for vehicles, which were adopted by Washington. And it approved emission caps that will come into effect as early as 2012 for some pollution sources.
In Washington, carbon dioxide from transportation amounts to about half of the total emissions.
"The real work that must happen in this arena is we need fewer cars and cleaner cars," Poulsen said. "Until we get more serious about public transit we're only going to make a dent in the problem."
Grant Nelson, governmental affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, was pleased that the business community would have input into the process thanks to a stakeholders group that the governor is forming.
Critics have questioned the efficacy of city- and state-level global warming measures, concerned that plans to cut pollution could hurt the economy while providing little environmental benefit.
The initiative is being designed so that additional states and provinces can sign on, said Kathleen Drew, Gregoire's climate policy expert. Leaders in British Columbia have expressed interest in the plan, she said. And it could provide a framework for a national program for combating climate change.
"We want to make sure that we're part of a larger system," Drew said. "We can't do it on a state-by-state basis, we're just too small."
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