Federal government slow to act on climate, so US states do

Governors of both parties are taking the lead on finding ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

"Lead, follow, or get out of the way" seems to be the message to Washington from political leaders around the country – Republican as well as Democrat – on climate change.

Governors of both parties are taking the lead on finding ways to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say cause global warming.

On Monday, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) of Utah announced his state would join five others (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington) and the Canadian province of British Columbia as part of the recently formed "Western Regional Climate Action Initiative."

"This isn't about party politics," Governor Huntsman said in a Salt Lake Tribune story about the announcement. "It's about doing the right thing for all of our citizens."

Governors of Western US states in particular worry about the possible effects of global warming, including declining water resources, drought, and wildfires. In the heavily forested Pacific Northwest, for example, scientists predict more trees will die because of insect infestations.

"There'll be more insect outbreaks and insect-caused deaths and forest fires," said Amy Snover, a research scientist at the University of Washington in an interview with a Seattle Times reporter. "Forests will look different."

That's the kind of thing that concerns California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who's particularly upset that the federal government so far has not approved his state's plan to limit tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, light trucks, and sport-utility vehicles. Under the federal Clean Air Act, California may enact its own air-pollution standards as long as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants the state a waiver. Other states may then adopt California's tougher standards.

Writing in The Washington Post May 21, Governor Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, also a Republican, blasted the EPA and the Bush administration for "inaction and denial" on climate change, which, they said, "borders on malfeasance." They added:

"By continuing to stonewall California's request, the federal government is blocking the will of tens of millions of people in California, Connecticut, and other states who want their government to take real action on global warming."

At an EPA hearing May 22 to consider the request by California and 10 other states, California Attorney General Jerry Brown threatened to sue the EPA for blocking California's vehicle pollution plan. Said Mr. Brown, as quoted by San Diego public radio station KPBS:

"In ordinary politics they are talking about immigration and Iraq – very serious – but from a long-term perspective, the threat of oil dependency and global climate disruption is much more threatening, much more difficult to deal with, and we gotta get going."

A lone voice of opposition at the hearing came from an auto industry representative.

"A patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations, as is now proposed by California, is not simply unnecessary, it's patently counterproductive," said Steve Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The state's waiver request "contains many assumptions and undocumented claims" about its benefits in countering global warming, he said in an Associated Press account of the hearing.

The nonpartisan National Governors Association recently detailed efforts made at the state level to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through conservation as well as developing more renewable energy sources. In a May 7 report (PDF), the NGA touted work at state capitals to develop alternative energy sources:

"Given recent energy price unpredictability and anticipated longer-term growth in energy demand, governors are leading efforts to conserve energy resources while actively seeking to diversify supplies by expanding renewable resources, including energy generated from solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. In addition to providing protection against price volatility, these efforts can also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions."

Many cities, too, are forging ahead of Washington on climate change.

In New York City this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, announced that every yellow cab in the city will be a fuel-efficient hybrid model by 2012, the Associated Press reported.

Once the new standards are fully in place, carbon emissions will be reduced by more than 200,000 metric tons per year, city officials said.

Meanwhile, leaders of religious groups also are urging President Bush and Congress to take action against global warming. In an open letter May 22, as reported by Reuters and other news sources, more than 20 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups declared that climate change is a "moral and spiritual issue." The religious leaders added: "Global warming is real, it is human-induced, and we have the responsibility to act."

These moves come just as a new report released this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that CO2 emissions are spiraling upward faster than earlier predicted. USA Today, reporting on the study, said that carbon-dioxide emissions from industrial sources, fueled by rapid growth in coal-reliant China, increased from 2000 to 2004 at a rate that is over three times the rate during the 1990s.

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