(Left to right) Governors Bill Richardson (NM), Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA), Janet Napolitano (AZ) and Christine Gregoire (WA). Governor Ted Kulongoski, (OR-not pictured) also signed the initiative. (Photo: William Foster/Office of Governor Schwarzenegger)
Five western states, from Washington to New Mexico, have banded together to coordinate their carbon reductions efforts to address global warming. These states, plus Northeast and Atlantic states with similar pledges, are forming the basis of a de-facto carbon trading market, a course opposed by the Bush administration. KQED’s Amy Standen reports.
CURWOOD: Not long ago California and ten Eastern states came together to coordinate efforts to fight global warming. Now four Western states are joining the drive to impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. Washington, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico have joined California, in a regional agreement that takes the country one step closer to a comprehensive cap and trade system for carbon emissions. From San Francisco, Amy Standen from member station KQED reports.
STANDEN: The creation of the Western Regional Climate Action Network, taken together with a similar Eastern Coast alliance, means that states representing a quarter of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions have taken the issue into their own hands.
According to senior policy adviser Lori Faeth, agreeing to work in concert with the other states wasn’t a hard call for her boss, Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano.
FAETH: Not at all, I mean clearly something needs to be done. The feds are not taking action on it and they still need to take action on it, but in the interim she felt like it was a good next step forward.
STANDEN: Members of the new Western Network are lobbying other states to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. Dan Skopec is with the California Environmental Protection Agency and was instrumental in bringing the states together. He says there is both room - and the need - to grow.
SKOPEC: If you force reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in one state, and a company just moves to another state then emits there, then you’re having leakage, and you don’t achieve the goal you’re looking to achieve, which is a reduction in global greenhouse gas. So we’re very hopeful that states like Nevada and other states will want to join us in the future.
STANDEN: The five states will share a new registry where they'll track their greenhouse gas emissions. But each state will set its own terms for how that reporting happens, just as each state will determine how much it plans to reduce emissions, and by what date.
California's goals require it to return to its 1990 emissions levels by 2020. Other states could be less ambitious. Still, environmental groups that supported the Agreement are optimistic. Ralph Cavanagh co-directs the Energy Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
CAVANAGH: I’m very confident that states will agree to limits at least that stringent. And I think what you’re going to see is that the statutory levels in California will be the floor, not the ceiling and that all of the states will be working together to achieve an objective at least as stringent as California’s.
STANDEN: The five states must also work out the terms of a carbon trading market. They’ll limit the amount of greenhouse gas that industries are allowed to release into the atmosphere. If a cement plant or refinery comes in under that limit, it can sell its remaining credits to other plants that exceeded it. Of course, the market only works if the limit is set low enough to make those credits valuable. Again, the NRDC’s Ralph Cavanagh.
CAVANAGH: Without mandatory limits there is nothing to trade because everyone can emit these pollutants with impunity without paying any costs at all. And you can’t develop a market because there’s no value associated with reducing pollution.
STANDEN: An emissions market typically only applies to stationary sources, like refineries and power plants. But in California, about 40 percent of emissions come not from stationary sources, but from mobile sources like cars and trucks. That’s why California law sets goals for clean fuel and cars as well as industrial plants. So, will other states take that on too? The new Western States Agreement doesn’t say but, again, Cavanaugh is hopeful.
CAVANAGH: And you can rely on the Californians, if no one else, to make sure that it’s on the table I have every confidence that it will be part, not just of the final plan for the five western states, but the final system that the US adopts as well.
STANDEN: Whatever law the federal government eventually adopts, the pace of state organizing has quickened. In the first paragraph of the western governors’ agreement, they say they're already feeling the signs of climate disruption– longer droughts, more severe forest fires and diminished snow pack. The time for action, they say, is now. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Standen.
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