British Columbia Aligns With California to Create a Green Bloc Along Pacific

"If you wait for a whole continent to come together, sometimes it takes too long," said British Columbia's Gordon Campbell, who met last week with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to plot action. (By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 18, 2007

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The premier of British Columbia wanted to bring coal-burning plants and offshore oil rigs to this lush province, so environmental groups were ready for a fight as he prepared his government's annual policy speech last month.

They were stunned when Premier Gordon Campbell delivered a list of green promises that surpassed their most ambitious dreams.

He would not only stop the growth in greenhouse gases in the province, he said, but also slash them by one-third. He would gut the coal plant plans. Embrace wind power. Lease hybrid cars for the government. Squelch environmental pollution by the powerful oil and gas industry. Toughen car emission regulations.

His plans would make British Columbia what the Globe and Mail newspaper called "the continent's greenest spot." Campbell also proposed an enterprising alliance with California to create a Pacific Coast bloc of states and provinces to tackle climate change without waiting for action from their federal governments.

"If you wait for a whole continent to come together, sometimes it takes too long," Campbell said Friday in an interview from Santa Monica, Calif., where he met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to plot joint action.

The two leaders announced plans to build a series of futuristic hydrogen fueling stations from San Diego to Whistler, B.C., to encourage the use of hydrogen vehicles. Campbell said he hopes to bring all the coastal governors to a global warming planning summit this spring.

"We want to get started on acting on climate change. I think it's what the public wants and what the planet needs," Campbell said.

The premier's embrace of global warming action reflects the growing political potency of the issue and illustrates how some local governments are shunning the go-slow approach of federal administrations in Washington and Ottawa.

Climate change is at the top of the list of public concerns in Canada, zooming ahead of traditional worry about the health care system, according to opinion polls.

In British Columbia, Campbell's plan to build two coal-fired electric plants in a province that depends almost entirely on clean hydropower produced a powerful backlash.

"The coal plants really got people fired up," said Ian Bruce, an analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental group based in Vancouver. "The perception is that British Columbia is an environmentally conscious place. But suddenly, British Columbians realized their government was headed in the wrong direction. It was an embarrassment, and it put a lot of pressure on the B.C. government."

Late last year, Campbell sought advice from Schwarzenegger, who had reversed his own sagging political fortunes by championing some of the toughest environmental regulations in the United States. Schwarzenegger dispatched his chief environmental adviser, Terry Tamminen, to Victoria, B.C., where he worked quietly with Campbell's staff to draft a far-reaching plan. On Feb. 13, Campbell unveiled the proposal in a traditional "throne speech" that sets out government policy.

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