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Why the American West is out front on curbing greenhouse gases

The emissions cap under the Western Climate Initiative is equivalent to taking 75.6 million cars off the road.

By / August 30, 2007

Even without Baghdad-like summer temperatures in Phoenix and other desert environs, heat has always been a major issue across the American West. For one thing, it relates directly to three of the classical earthly elements: water, air, and, of course, fire. That is, air quality and pollution, water-loaded snowpacks and glaciers, and wildfires made worse by hot weather patterns.

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So it's not surprising that climate change is seen by many citizens and officials out West as a big deal – so big that Western states and cities have been at the forefront of tackling global warming. Last week, six Western governors and two Canadian provincial leaders "pledged & to enforce a tough regional cap on greenhouse gas emissions," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Under the Western Climate Initiative, the leaders agreed to slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-warming pollutants to 15% below 2005 levels in their states and provinces in the next 13 years…. Overall, the region would cut emissions by 350-million metric tons over that time period."

Those signing on are Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, plus British Columbia and Manitoba. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the goal is roughly the same as taking 75.6 million cars off the road, making it "North America's most comprehensive and overarching regional program because it could affect every business sector, as well as consumers' daily lives, such as what type of fuel motorists pump into their vehicles…."

Still, said Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency: "We know that California alone cannot defeat global warming. It's a global problem that requires a global solution."

One goal of the Western pact is to pressure Congress and the Bush administration into passing laws that would regulate emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

While environmentalists lauded the effort, they point to its weaknesses. For example, Reuters reports:

"The Western pact does not include Alberta, the Canadian province that is home to oil and natural gas fields, including the tar sands, whose development is extremely carbon-intensive. It also excludes Nevada, California's neighbor which lacks emissions targets and has sought to lure Golden State businesses with tax benefits and other incentives."

The states plan to meet the reductions by using more renewable-energy sources, regulating emissions from motor vehicles, and improving the efficiency of appliances and other electrical equipment. There are other goals as well, Bloomberg reports.

"The plan lays groundwork for a European-style system across the region that will limit emissions and allow businesses to buy or sell pollution credits if they exceed, or fall short, of their goals. The states want to link up to other systems, such as the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and to Europe's trading plan."