By SAMANTHA YOUNG
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 8:34 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping global warming initiative that imposes the nation's first cap on greenhouse gas emissions, saying the effort kicks off "a bold new era of environmental protection."
Standing on picturesque Treasure Island with San Francisco's skyline in the background, Schwarzenegger called the fight against global warming one of the most important issues of modern times.
"We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it is too late," Schwarzenegger said during an address before signing the bill.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. George Pataki, as well as Democratic legislators, joined Schwarzenegger for the high-profile ceremony. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who struck a deal with Schwarzenegger over the summer to develop clean technologies, joined the ceremony via video link.
Blair called the bill-signing "a proud day for political leadership" and "a historic day for the rest of the world, as well."
California's efforts on global warming have been in the spotlight since Schwarzenegger and the state's legislative Democrats reached an accord last month on the Democrat-authored bill to cut greenhouse gases.
The negotiations culminated in the last week of the legislative session, handing the Republican governor a key victory during an election year in which he has sought to portray himself as a friend to the environment.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger called the bill signing a historic occasion.
"It will begin a bold new era of environmental protection in California that will change the course of history," he said.
He expected other states, the federal government and even other nations to follow.
"I'm convinced of that ... because nothing is more important than protecting our planet," he said.
Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent in the November election, state treasurer Phil Angelides, also supports the new law.
It imposes a first-in-the-nation emissions cap on utilities, refineries and manufacturing plants in a bid to curb the gases that scientists blame for warming the Earth. Two years ago, a state board adopted tight regulations on automobile tailpipe emissions, an initiative that is being challenged in federal court by automakers.
This week, Schwarzenegger also was expected to sign a second Democrat-sponsored global warming bill with consequences beyond the state's borders. That bill would prohibit California's large utilities and corporations from entering long-term power contracts with suppliers whose electricity sources do not meet the state's greenhouse gas emission standards.
The measure by Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata is intended to force coal plants in the western U.S. to install cleaner technologies.
California's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from industry and automobiles are part of a goal to reduce the state's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, an estimated 25 percent reduction. California is the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.
Schwarzenegger issued an executive order in 2005 calling for an even more ambitious reduction _ cutting the levels of greenhouse gases to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger described the emissions-cap bill as one step in a long-term strategy by the nation's most populous state to combat global climate change. He said the state should further reduce industrial emissions and adopt initiatives such as placing greater emphasis on renewable energy and hydrogen-fueled cars.
The industrial emissions cap has been praised by environmentalists as a step toward fighting global climate change, but business leaders have warned that it will increase their costs and force them to scale back their California operations.
Schwarzenegger said it is possible to protect the environment as well as the state's economy. He expects the law will lead to a new business sector in California devoted to developing the technologies industries can use to meet the tougher emission requirements.
"We can save our planet and boost our economy at the same time," the governor said.