State, Local Officials Call for Federal Climate Action

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 2, 2007 (ENS) - Congress needs to enact mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but federal legislation should not impede stricter policies adopted by state and local governments, state and local officials told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday.

"It is imperative for Congress to act but we shouldn't have federal legislation that preempts states that are taking aggressive stands," said New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

Corzine, who recently signed an executive order setting a statewide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, joined state and local officials from California, Washington and Iowa to discuss their climate change actions with the committee.

"They are leading the way for the rest of the nation and understand what is at stake for our future," said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chair of the committee. "They are sending us a signal that we must heed."

State and local action "should not serve as an excuse for inaction at the federal level," added Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.


New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine says the federal action on climate change is long overdue. (Photo courtesy New Jersey's office of the governor)

Twenty-nine states, with a combined population of more than 140 million, have some form of climate action plan and 14 have set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Regional cooperation is also emerging, with eight Northeastern states working on a regional greenhouse gas initiative and five Western states signing a pact this week to address global warming.

"The reason that states are being so aggressive is that there isn't a feeling of action," said Corzine, a former U.S. senator. "If it is not going to happen at the federal level, we want to be aggressive in trying to mobilize as much as the country as we can."

Local officials are also engaged in serious efforts to tackle the issue, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels told the committee.

Nickels said more than 400 mayors, representing upwards of 60 million people in all 50 states, have signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Act, pledging to take local action to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their own communities.

Local efforts include changes to land-use policies, reductions to energy consumption and fuel use, investments in hybrid and biofuel vehicles, and increases to energy efficiency, Nickels said.

"We are not just signing a piece of paper," Nickels said. "We are making a difference, and laying the groundwork for strong federal policies and programs."

The local and state officials said the federal government should approach the problem from all angles, targeting emissions from all sectors and adopting higher fuel economy standards, stricter building code regulations as well as aggressively supporting investments in cleaner energy technologies.

"If we don't think about on a holistic basis, I think we will fail," Corzine said.


Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has cut his city's greenhouse gas emissions some 60 percent. (Photo courtesy City of Seattle)

California officials said their efforts could be serve as a ready model for Congress - the state has adopted an economy-wide plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

"I ask only one thing," said Don Perata, president of the California Senate. "Whatever you do, please don't do anything to pre-empt the strides that are being made in New Jersey, Washington, California and elsewhere."

None of the current bills under consideration in either the House or the Senate and Boxer, who is leading the push for global warming legislation in the Senate, has said she opposed preempting state or local actions.

Other Democrats indicated similar opinions.

"We have to have as much activity at all levels of society as we can," said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat.

Republicans on the committee expressed skepticism about the effectiveness and wisdom of state, local and regional actions, and voiced familiar concerns about the economic impacts of mandatory greenhouse gas restrictions.

"These programs haven't accomplished anything so far," said Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the committee. "They are simply empty promises that won't be kept and denials about costs that will surely be paid."

"National policy and broad-based international policy is so much more valuable on an issue like this," added Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican. "I am very skeptical of a piece-by-piece solution to a very big problem."

Senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, said any national effort must consider regional differences, noting that his state is far more dependent on coal-fired electricity than either New Jersey or California.

"Some of the current climate change proposals have the ability to hurt some regions more than others and we have to account for that," Bond said. "Putting heavy costs on coal can have heavy, unintended consequences."


Coal-fired power plants are a major source of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, but the United States has an abundant domestic supply of the fossil fuel. (Photo courtesy NASA)

State and local officials said the federal government must take the lead in developing clean coal technology - a view shared by Democrats and Republicans on the panel.

"I believe clean coal technology is absolutely essential," Boxer said.

Demand for such technology will only increase, Clinton added, and the government has a vested interest in encouraging American businesses to take the lead.

"We have subsidized the oil and gas industry for decades," said Clinton, a presidential hopeful. "It is time to take those subsidies, those tax breaks, and put them to work on behalf of clean coal and renewables."

Voinovich said clean-coal technology is "in its infancy" and strict measures targeting coal, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, before the technology is ready could have adverse economic impacts.

"The technology really isn't out there," Voinovich said. "Senator Clinton talked about a Manhattan Project and I think we are at that stage right now. If we wait for the market to do this, it is not going to happen."