Cities, States Aren't Waiting For U.S. Action on Climate
Friday, August 11, 2006
With Washington lawmakers deadlocked on how best to curb global warming, state and local officials across the country are adopting ambitious policies and forming international alliances aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
The initiatives, which include demands that utilities generate some of their energy using renewable sources and mandates for a reduction in emissions from motor vehicles, have emboldened clean-air advocates who hope they will form the basis for broader national action. But in the meantime, some businesses say the local and state actions are creating a patchwork of regulations that they must contend with.
This flurry of action is part of a growing movement among state and local leaders who have given up hope that Congress and the administration will tackle major issues, and are launching their own initiatives on immigration, stem cell research and energy policy. Last week alone, former president Bill Clinton launched an effort with 22 of the world's largest cities to cut their emissions, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they will explore trading carbon dioxide pollution credits across the Atlantic.
Recently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have set standards demanding that utilities generate a specific amount of energy -- in some cases, as high as 33 percent -- from renewable sources by 2020. And 11 states have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
California also has passed legislation mandating that automakers reduce their vehicles' carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2016, and 10 other states have committed to adopt the same standards if the law survives a court challenge.
In addition, as many as 10 states in the Northeast are working to establish state-by-state ceilings for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and allow industries such as power plants to trade pollution credits for carbon emissions while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2019. California, Oregon and Washington are negotiating a similar pact.
Some local officials said they are pushing ahead with plans because the Bush administration, which has promoted cleaner technology but opposes mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, has failed to adequately address the problem.
"Like most mayors, I'm disappointed the federal government has not taken more of a lead on this issue, but so be it. We're moving forward," said Albuquerque Mayor Martin J. Chavez, who is expanding public transportation in his city and has persuaded some other U.S. mayors to pledge to make their cities' buildings carbon-neutral by 2030, meaning their net carbon dioxide emissions would be zero.
But some experts say there is a political imperative at work, as well. Tim Profeta, who worked for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) before leaving last year to direct Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said local politicians feel greater pressure to address the threat of rising sea levels and other climate-related conditions.
"State and local governments are less removed from their constituents, so they're more responsive to voters' concerns," said Profeta, who sits on North Carolina's climate-change commission and has met with British officials on the subject. "Climate change is on people's minds, and they're asking for action."
North Carolina state Sen. Charles W. Albertson (D) said he is not "completely convinced" that human activity is causing global warming, but he pushed for the climate-change commission because he worries that environmental changes are threatening his coastal constituents' homes and livelihoods. "What if it's taking place and we're not doing anything about it?" he asked.
Bush's top environmental adviser, James L. Connaughton, said the president welcomes state and local initiatives because they complement the administration's approach to global warming.