States take lead in clean air quest – Wetlands, wildlife damage prompting independent action
States from California to New England are leading the charge to cut toxic emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants, autos, and new building construction, undeterred by federal foot-dragging on the issue.
States are taking action because dramatic temperature shifts have created havoc with everything from wetlands to wildlife.
By Melita Marie Garza
Tribune staff reporter
For example, warmer temperatures in New Hampshire have caused maple trees to die off in the southern part of the state.
In British Columbia, hotter, drier weather has fed huge forest fires, creating havens for the mountain pine beetle, which attacks weakened trees.
"It’s just devastating their forests," said Barry Rabe, a professor of environmental policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. "These are states that are beginning to see some significant changes in their climate and some pretty serious disruptions," Rabe said.
Environmentalists say the states are prodding the federal government to take action on carbon dioxide, which is created by burning coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide emissions are a leading cause of climate change.
"The national government is very close to a tipping point from doing nothing to taking serious action," said David Doniger, policy director for the National Resources Defense Council Climate Center.
The state actions come despite U.S. rejection of the international Kyoto Protocol that would have limited carbon dioxide emissions, and Congress’ failure to pass legislation to curb carbon dioxide pollution.
"It’s one thing when we talk about climate change and `The Day After Tomorrow,’ Rabe said, referring to the recently released apocalyptic movie that depicts the U.S. beset by weather catastrophes from coast-to-coast as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.
"It’s another, when we see states take increasingly significan steps to reduce the greenhouse gases," he said.
The pattern of states filling a policy void left by Congress and the executive branch is not unprecedented.
The federal Social Security program was modeled on a program that had been implemented in Wisconsin. Likewise, some Northern states passed civil rights legislation before President Lyndon Johnson won congressional approval of a federal civil rights act.
In dealing with climate issues, the federal government largely has been gridlocked. States have used their regulatory clout, particularly in the area of energy development and electric utilities, to jump into the matter.
Minnesota was one of the first states to take action on climate change when it enacted legislation in 1993 to consider the impact of carbon dioxide releases in evaluating energy development. In 1997, Oregon went further, setting limits for how much carbon dioxide could be released from new power plants.
More recently, states such as Massachusetts and New Hampshire are requiring cardon emissions reductions for all existing plants.
The momentum is continuing. The Western Governors’ Association recently agreed to set regional renewable energy goals, which aim to provide energy security while cutting greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
The three largest cities in the U.S. also have gotten into the act. As a result of a campaign by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles have started measuring the amount of greenhouse gas pollutants emanating from their communities. Chicago and Los Angeles have adopted Climate Action Plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and New York’s is on the way.
California’s role in setting emissions standards from automobiles goes back to the 1960s, when, beset by smog, the state began curbing tailpipe pollution well in advance of the Clean Air Act of 1970.
After federal regulations were enacted, California continued setting its own standards.
In 2002, California passed legislation that required the state to come up with ways to limit carbon dioxide emissions from cars.
The recently announced plan would require manufacturers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions between the 2009 and 2011 model years by 22 percent, and reduce them by a total of 30 percent by 2015.
Several northeastern states, including New York, adopted the earlier, tougher 1963 California standards and will join its new effort to cut auto carbon dioxide emissions.
Canada also is considering following California, and if it joined in the effort, manufacturers would be required to produce vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions for about one third of the North American automobile market.
Illinois has shown no inclination to adopt the California model.
"The big middle of the car market has yet to address the issue," said Bruce Nilles, the Sierra Club’s senior Midwest representative. "If Illinois were to switch–the significant size of our car market would create a tremendous incentive for the automakers to just make one cleaner, less-polluting car at little or no extra cost."
Seth Kaplan, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said: "The car companies are rattling their sabers about two things related to the California initiative. They argue carbon dioxide can’t be regulated through this law because it is not designated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
"But the act defines a pollutant as a `substance that can cause harm.’ Even the Bush administration’s 2002 Climate Action Report says carbon dioxide is a pollutant," Kaplan said.
The opposition also argues that California is trying to make an end run around the federal government, which alone has the authority to set fuel efficiency standards. The companies note that some of the proposed engineering changes to cut greenhouse gas emissions also affect fuel economy.
After California passed the legislation in 2002, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers raised the possibility that it might sue the state.
Now the alliance seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach.
"We are reviewing the draft standards to examine the technical feasibility, economic impact and cost effectiveness of the proposal," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the alliance.
Still, said Doniger, of the National Resources Defense Council: "What California does on motor vehicles is the bellwether for what will be adopted nationally. They have never stopped a California air pollution control initiative in the past. A waiver from the federal government has never been denied before. I am quite confident that California will win even if it faces legal opposition from car companies and the feds."
Significantly, the state actions are bipartisan, with Republicans such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledging to uphold and defend the new standards and New York’s Republican Gov. George Pataki committing his state to join California.
In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney recently unveiled a climate protection plan that would make the Bay State the first to evaluate carbon dioxide emissions before approving state construction and road projects.
Pataki also spearheaded the formation of an 11-state group in the Northeast that is developing its own cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The program would set a regional limit for how much carbon dioxide a plant could produce and allow emitters who produce less than allowed to trade credits with those that exceed the cap.
The plan, similar to a successful federal cap-and-trade system to curtail acid rain, is advancing in the wake of congressional failure to establish a national cap-and-trade program.
One of the more significant federal legislative efforts, the "Climate Stewardship Act" proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), won 43 votes in the Senate last session and is being reintroduced with some modifications.
"Our critics would have you believe that John McCain and I are wild-eyed enviros," Lieberman said at a recent conference held by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Brookings Institution. "All we are asking businesses and industry to do by the end of the decade is to hold their emissions to what they were in 2000. The average person on the street, I think, will see this as a reasonable thing to ask."
Of course, not all states have eagerly embraced climate change initiatives.
In 1998 and 1999, 16 states, including Illinois, passed anti-Kyoto legislation. The Illinois law bars state agencies from adopting new rules to reduce greenhouse gas.
Yet the state last week joined 10 other states and 14 environmental and citizen groups in filing a legal brief that asserts that the Clean Air Act gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
And earlier this year a law was passed setting energy efficiency standards for office and commercial buildings designed to cut electricity consumption and its polluting byproducts.
Dennis McMurray, a spokesman for the Illinois EPA, said several state agencies are researching previous studies about the effect of carbon dioxide emissions on Illinois and are compiling a list of the state’s actions to reduce the pollutant.
Nilles, of the Sierra Club, said: "I would give Illinois an `A’ for what they are doing on the national level, but a `D’ on stuff they could be doing locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
– – –
– 1989: Gov. Thomas Kean issued an executive order urging state agencies to take the lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
– 1994: Developed a greenhouse gas inventory and state action plan.
– 1993: Required largest emitters of carbon dioxide, from pizza plants to utilities, to report the amount of emissions annually.
– 1993: Passed legislation requiring an analysis of the cost of environmental damage of carbon dioxide emissions from proposed electric power plants.
– 1997: Passed legislation limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants; also requiring such plants to offset 17 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions through mitigation projects, such as planting trees.
– 1999: Electricity restructuring law signed by then Gov. George W. Bush required utilities to steadily increase electricity generated from renewable, noncarbon dioxide emitting sources; on track to generate 3 percent to 4 percent of electricity from wind and other sources by 2009.
– 2000: Required the state’s six existing power plants to cut carbon dioxide and other major pollutants.
– 2004: Issued comprehensive Climate Protection Plan; member of the Northeastern states initiative to form a system to cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emissions.
– 2002: Required its three fossil fuel power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; member of the Northeastern states initiative.
– 2002: First state to pass legislation requiring automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
– 2004: Law enacted requiring new fossil fuel electric power plants to offset 20 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions through mitigation projects.
– 2004: Law established a state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and eventually to a level 75 to 80 percent below current levels.
Sources: Pew Center on Global Climate Change; "Statehouse and Greenhouse: The Emerging Politics of American Climate Change Policy," by Barry Rabe ‘The big middle of the car market has yet to address
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
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