Virginia Joins the Battle
New goals to fight global warming get a foothold in Richmond.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ANUMBER of states have woken up to the fact that Godot himself might show up and establish residency before the federal government gets around to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. California, Florida and a group of Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, among others, have set very or fairly aggressive targets to reduce planet-warming pollutants. Now Virginia is starting to move cautiously in the same direction. It should be commended and encouraged to do even more.

In truth, the grandly titled Virginia Energy Plan, released by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), is a bit of a dog's breakfast -- a little of this, a little of that, something for every stakeholder to chew on. That's not surprising, given that the plan, commissioned in 2006 by the state legislature, is the work of energy industry representatives, environmentalists and consumer groups, to name just a few.

Nonetheless, the plan does at least two important things. First, it recommends that Virginia cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2025. That's a 30 percent reduction from projected emission levels -- not as aggressive as standards already adopted in a number of forward-looking states, but not bad. Second, it sets out a blueprint and stresses the critical need for an intensified, sustained campaign of energy efficiency and conservation measures. That's a smart, cost-effective strategy that will pay economic and environmental dividends far into the future. It's also an implicit recognition that Virginia is playing catch-up with the rest of the country: In a ranking of states done this year by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Old Dominion placed 38th overall in terms of the energy-efficient plans and programs already in place, and it was tied for last (with Wyoming and Kansas) as measured by the utility sector's spending on energy efficiency.

The report gave a nod to the goal of the state becoming more energy-independent, meaning that it produces a greater share of the power it consumes, although it's not clear why this would be a net benefit. And it suggested, as one step to accomplish that goal, construction of a new coal-fired plant in southwestern Virginia, although it is unclear how building more coal-burning power stations jibes with the stated objective of cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the measures urged by the report will require legislation. Others, including the crucial step of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, could be achieved by executive action. Most Northeastern states, as well as Maryland, have already signed on to a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to 10 percent below the 2002 level by 2018. Mr. Kaine could commit Virginia to that on his own authority now while at the same time seeking the deeper, broader cuts recommended in the energy plan by 2025.

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