The Heat Is Online

Six Midwestern States Form Carbon-Cutting Pact

Emissions pact wins backing

6 Midwest governors to sign accord


The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Nov. 14, 2007


Six Midwestern governors and the premier of Manitoba will sign an accord in Milwaukee today that will commit those states to working together to slash emissions linked to global warming over the coming decades.


Another three governors are expected to sign on to the accord as observers.


The agreement represents a bipartisan statement that it's time to take action on global warming, rather than wait for the federal government to act, the accord's backers said.


"This is a momentous day in Milwaukee," said Gov. Jim Doyle, co-chair of the Midwest climate and energy summit.


The plans being announced today include a broad set of goals to boost supply of renewable energy and biofuels and to tap energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


The agreement is also a message to Congress that action needs to be taken on renewable energy and climate policy, said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.


"If nothing else, we're going to get the attention of those in Washington, and we need our colleagues from across the nation, the other governors, to join us," he said.


Regional accords


With the agreement, three regions of the nation now have signed on to regional greenhouse gas-reduction accords. The Northeastern states announced a plan several years ago, followed more recently by a six-state West Coast initiative.


Including the six states that have signed on as full participants to the accord, 48% of the nation's population will now be included in some form of regional climate compact, according to the non-profit World Resources Institute.


What's significant about the Midwestern accord is that the region depends so heavily on coal, a key source of carbon dioxide emissions to make electricity for homes and businesses.


Coal can be viewed as an Achilles' heel for the region, but it's also an opportunity, said Steven Frankel, deputy chief of staff to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.


"Illinois is a coal mining state" but the Blagojevich administration sees the potential for the state to boost jobs in the coal-mining industry through development of advanced clean-coal plants that would bury carbon dioxide deep underground rather than have it released into the atmosphere, Frankel said.


The Midwest and Manitoba - a key source of hydroelectric power - could "be an economic powerhouse in a low-carbon world" given the potential to develop wind power and biofuels on a large scale here, Doyle said.


"If Midwest farm fields are competing with Middle East oil fields, then we are doing something right," Doyle said as the summit opened Wednesday.


Under the agreement, the region would set up a regional cap-and-trade system for trading emission credits over the next year, with trading of those credits slated to start in 2010. There is no specific target yet identified for how much emissions would be cut, but many states in the region are developing plans that aim to cut emissions by 60% to 80% by 2050.


Climate stewardship


In a second agreement to be signed today, all 12 governors will approve an energy security and climate stewardship platform that is designed to set goals for the entire Midwest to reduce use of electricity through energy efficiency, boost renewable energy production and develop next-generation coal-fired power plants and underground carbon dumps for carbon dioxide emissions generated by coal plants.


The agreement calls for studies of the region's power line network to enable more renewable energy from windy regions of Iowa and Minnesota to reach less windy states such as Wisconsin.


The deal also sets in motion work to develop a regional carbon capture strategy that could entail construction of pipelines shipping carbon dioxide generated by coal-fired power plants to states like Illinois that can store the carbon underground or use it in oil fields.

Among the platform's goals:


" All new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 would be required to capture carbon dioxide and ship it to an underground storage site.


" 30% of the region's electricity would come from renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and landfill gas by 2030.


" One-third of the region's gas stations would be selling the E85 blend of ethanol by 2025.


Energy efficiency measures would be tapped to enable the region to reduce overall electricity demand by 2% a year beginning in 2015, Doyle said.


The strategies outlined are designed to address both climate change as well as reliance on imported oil, with the price of crude hovering above $90 a barrel.


"We can't drill our way out of this crisis," Doyle said. "We have got to invent and innovate our way to a cleaner, safer energy future."


Doyle is chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association and co-host of the summit along with Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.


Organizers of the summit were still counting votes on Wednesday, when Illinois signed on to the accord. Organizers expressed some surprise that the governor of coal-reliant Kansas and auto-industry dependent Michigan are on board.


The accord is an important step, said Bruce Nilles, who works on energy issues for the Sierra Club across the Midwest and has fought proposals for new coal-fired power plants under construction in Oak Creek and Wausau.


"This should help spur Congress that people in local elective office have had enough and are demanding action," he said.


But Nilles cautioned the Midwestern governors to "avoid making some really dumb mistakes as we move forward, such as building new coal-burning power plants."


New plants planned


Alliant Energy Corp. of Madison has applications for new coal plants pending before state regulators in both Wisconsin and Iowa.


"Kansas regulators recently denied an air permit for a large coal plant there, citing concerns about global warming pollution," said Mark Redsten, Clean Wisconsin executive director. "This accord puts large global warming polluters on notice that in Wisconsin and the Midwest, we're ready for a clean energy future."


Critics of regional accords say they don't see the merit of any one state or any one region moving to regulate global warming on its own, when other states and nations such as China are not.


Scott Manley, who lobbies on environmental issues for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce - the state's largest business lobby - said his group supports voluntary efforts to reduce emissions but believes it's the job of Congress, not any one state or region, to act.


"We want to avoid market distortions that make it more expensive to do business in Wisconsin as opposed to another state that isn't part of this regional network the governor is talking about," he said.


That is one of the reasons that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is only signing on as an observer, his top energy adviser said.


"Governor Strickland is leery of regional solutions to national problems," said Mark Shanahan, executive director of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. But Strickland wanted to show support for the process to help Ohio prepare for a national plan that he believes will emerge after the 2008 election, Shanahan said.


During a meeting with Journal Sentinel's editorial board, Doyle said he believes Congress will act to reduce emissions at some point, and that by moving forward now Wisconsin and the Midwest will have a greater voice in shaping how a national plan is created. For example, he said, a national plan that allocates credits to clean energy sources such as wind turbines and polluting sources such as coal should also give credit to Wisconsin for its work in forest preservation.