Global Warming Activity Goes Local
- From the NY Times, October 29, 2003
The Warming Is Global but the Legislating, in the U.S., Is All Local
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 � Motivated by environmental and economic concerns,
states have become the driving force in efforts to combat global warming
even as mandatory programs on the federal level have largely stalled.
At least half of the states are addressing global warming, whether
through legislation, lawsuits against the Bush administration or programs
initiated by governors.
In the last three years, state legislatures have passed at least 29
bills, usually with bipartisan support. The most contentious is
California's 2002 law to set strict limits for new cars on emissions of
carbon dioxide, the gas that scientists say has the greatest role in
While few of the state laws will have as much impact as California's,
they are not merely symbolic. In addition to caps on emissions of gases
like carbon dioxide that can cause the atmosphere to heat up like a
greenhouse, they include registries to track such
emissions, efforts to diversify fuel sources and the use of crops to
capture carbon dioxide by taking it out of the atmosphere and into the
Aside from their practical effects, supporters say, these efforts will
put pressure on Congress and the administration to enact federal
legislation, if only to bring order to a patchwork of state laws.
States are moving ahead in large part to fill the vacuum that has been
left by the federal government, said David Danner, the energy adviser for
Gov. Gary Locke of Washington.
"We hope to see the problem addressed at the federal level," Mr. Danner
said, "but we're not waiting around."
There are some initiatives in Congress, but for the moment even their
backers acknowledge that they are doomed, given strong opposition from
industry, the Bush administration � which favors voluntary controls � and
most Congressional Republicans.
This week, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a proposal to create a
national regulatory structure for carbon dioxide. This would be the first
vote for either house on a measure to restrict the gas.
The proposal's primary sponsors, Senator John McCain, Republican of
Arizona, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, see it
mainly as a way to force senators to take a position on the issue, given
the measure's slim prospects.
States are acting partly because of predictions that global warming could
damage local economies by harming agriculture, eroding shorelines and
"We're already seeing things which may be linked to global warming here
in the state," Mr. Danner said. "We have low snowpack, increased forest
Environmental groups and officials in state governments say that energy
initiatives are easier to move forward on the local level because they
span constituencies � industrial and service sectors, Democrat and
Republican, urban and rural.
While the coal, oil and automobile industries have big lobbies in
Washington, the industry presence is diluted on the state level.
Environmental groups say this was crucial to winning a legislative battle
over automobile emissions in California, where the automobile industry
did not have a long history of large campaign donations and
instead had to rely on a six-month advertising campaign to make its case.
Local businesses are also interested in policy decisions because of
concerns about long-term energy costs, said Christopher James, director
of air planning and standards for the Connecticut Department of
Environmental Protection. As a result, environmental
groups are shifting their efforts to focus outside Washington.
Five years ago the assumption was that the climate treaty known as the
Kyoto Protocol was the only effort in town, said Rhys Roth, the executive
director of Climate Solutions, which works on global warming issues in
the Pacific Northwest states. But since President Bush rejected the Kyoto
pact in 2001, local groups have been
emerging on the regional, state and municipal levels.
The Climate Action Network, a worldwide conglomeration of nongovernment
organizations working on global warming, doubled its membership of state
and local groups in the last two years.
The burst of activity is not limited to the states with a traditional
At least 15 states, including Texas and Nevada, are forcing their state
electric utilities to diversify beyond coal and oil to energy sources
like wind and solar power.
Even rural states are linking their agricultural practices to global
warming. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming have all passed initiatives in
anticipation of future greenhouse-gas emission trading, hoping they can
capitalize on their forests and crops to capture carbon dioxide during
Cities are also adopting new energy policies. San Franciscans approved a
$100 million bond initiative in 2001 to pay for solar panels for
municipal buildings, including the San Francisco convention center.
The rising level of state activity is causing concern among those who
oppose carbon dioxide regulation.
"I believe the states are being used to force a federal mandate," said
Sandy Liddy Bourne, who does research on global warming for the American
Legislative Exchange Council, a group contending that carbon dioxide
should not be regulated because it is not a pollutant. "Rarely do you see
so many bills in one subject area introduced across the country."
The council started tracking state legislation, which they call
son-of-Kyoto bills, weekly after they noticed a significant rise in
greenhouse-gas-related legislation two years ago. This year, the council
says, 24 states have introduced 90 bills that would build
frameworks for regulating carbon dioxide. Sixty-six such bills were
introduced in all of 2001 and 2002.
Some of the activity has graduated to a regional level. Last summer, Gov.
George E. Pataki of New York invited 10 Northeastern states to set up a
regional trading network where power plants could buy and sell carbon
dioxide credits in an effort to lower overall emissions. In 2001, six New
England states entered into an agreement with Canadian provinces to cap
overall emissions by 2010. Last month, California, Washington and Oregon
announced that they would start looking at shared strategies to address
To be sure, some states have decided not to embrace policies to combat
global warming. Six � Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, West
Virginia and Wyoming � have explicitly passed laws against any mandatory
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
"My concern," said Ms. Bourne, "is that members of industry and
environment groups will go to the federal government to say: `There is a
patchwork quilt of greenhouse-gas regulations across the country. We
cannot deal with the 50 monkeys. We must have one 800-pound gorilla.
Please give us a federal mandate.' " Indeed, some environmentalists say
this is precisely their strategy.
States developed their own air toxics pollution programs in the 1980's,
which resulted in different regulations and standards across the country.
Industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, eventually
lobbied Congress for federal standards, which
were incorporated into the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments.
A number of states are trying to compel the federal government to move
sooner rather than later. On Thursday, 12 states, including New York,
with its Republican governor, and three cities sued the Environmental
Protection Agency for its recent decision not to
regulate greenhouse-gas pollutants under the Clean Air Act, a reversal of
the agency's previous stance under the Clinton administration.
"Global warming cannot be solely addressed at the state level," said Tom
Reilly, the Massachusetts attorney general. "It's a problem that requires
a federal approach."
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