IN THE ABSENCE of a national policy, states are beginning to take steps to reduce America's contributions to global warming. President Bush shied away from requiring companies to report their emissions of atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases; Wisconsin implemented a mandatory reporting system. Congress couldn't pass a national standard to boost the amount of electricity produced from renewable sources; 15 states (including Texas under then-Gov. Bush) have imposed their own. Mr. Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol and broke a pledge to regulate power plants' carbon dioxide emissions; New Jersey set a state goal for greenhouse gas reduction by 2005, and Massachusetts imposed its own cap on carbon emissions from six major facilities. Congress flinched at meaningful improvements in auto fuel efficiency standards; California ordered cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, a measure now under court attack from both the auto industry and the Bush administration. States are demonstrating that it is possible to take meaningful steps now to lower emissions of the gases that scientists believe are contributing to a rise in global temperatures.

The range of state efforts, catalogued in a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is not just an example to federal policymakers of what can be done. It's also a signal that many responsible officials, like many business leaders, recognize the wisdom of acting sooner rather than later. A patchwork of local requirements will be a headache for businesses; in many cases, states aren't the ideal venue for such regulation. But if the patchwork increases pressure on the federal government to stop ducking, that's not so bad.

The administration last week unveiled its latest move on global warming -- a detailed, far-ranging agenda for climate and warming research. More study is good: There is much still to be learned about climate science. But much already is known, and the longer Mr. Bush waits to act on that knowledge, the steeper the eventual price will be. Responsible leaders are reacting at the international and local level: When will the president catch up?