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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

News From My Backyard: Five Western States Team Up to Battle Global Warming

Governors of Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and New Mexico Will Work Together to Set Caps on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

[From the Oregonian:]

Oregon will join four other Western states in setting limits on greenhouse gases produced by everything from the car you drive to the power plant that supplies your electricity.

In taking the action Monday, Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and New Mexico build momentum for a national strategy to control carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming. States are increasingly pressing forward on their own amid inaction by the Bush administration and Congress.

Capping emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants could also push energy companies toward wind and other renewable energy.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski helped broker the five-state deal and signed onto it Monday with the governors of the other states.

[Image: The five western states joining the global warming compact represent about 11% of total United States emissions of global warming pollutants. The five states will set goals and create a strategy to reduce emissions within 18 months.]

The compact "sends a message to Congress and the White House that if they fail to enact policies at the national level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do our nation's part to combat global warming, that states will do it on their own," Kulongoski said.

The governors said the West is especially vulnerable, as global warming leads to more severe droughts and wildfires; and earlier snowmelt, leaving less water in the heat of summer.

Each of the states in the western strategy was already acting on its own to address global warming. All the governors who signed the agreement are Democrats, except Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

The strategy has potential to grow to include other states and British Columbia, which has invited West Coast states to join its efforts, said David Van't Hof, an adviser to Kulongoski. He said a primary goal of the strategy is to motivate the federal government to act, and to protect the interests of Western states if it does.

"Rather than wait for them to act, we're trying to influence where it's heading," Van't Hof said.

East Coast pact

The western effort is the second broad regional move to address global warming. Nine Eastern states have already joined to limit emissions from power plants only and create a cap-and-trade system for the plants to buy and sell credits they get for reducing emissions.

The Western states strategy is general and does not specify how the states will control greenhouse gases. But they will target all the major sources: vehicle exhaust and industrial sources as well, according to the governors and their aides.

To start out, the states will set goals for slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and then cutting them back. Then, within 18 months, they will establish a strategy for reducing the emissions.

One option is a cap-and-trade system that limits carbon dioxide released as electricity is generated. It would require utilities that sell electricity in Oregon, for instance, to control the resulting carbon dioxide. If they cannot control it, they might instead buy credits from those that do.

Utilities could also fund programs to offset their emissions by planting trees to soak up the gases, for example.

Emissions limits would probably also extend to vehicles in some form, since they produce about a third of carbon dioxide released nationwide. Oregon has already adopted stricter tailpipe standards that reduce vehicle pollution and emissions.

Limiting power plant emissions will probably push electricity prices up a few percent or more as power companies pay for the controls. But a draft strategy developed in Oregon would channel more money into making homes and businesses more energy efficient, so they would burn less power overall and their bills might decline.

"You're either behind the curve or you're ahead of it, and this puts Oregon ahead of it," said Jason Eisdorfer, an attorney with Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon. "Oregon is not going to solve global warming itself, but these five states together can make a significant contribution."

Depending on the approach, the Legislature would probably have to approve greenhouse gas controls. California has already instituted tough limits on carbon dioxide and is talking with the United Kingdom about combining forces in a joint strategy.

The Western states that joined the strategy Monday together emit about 11 percent of all carbon dioxide nationwide. Experts said that by itself shows that the effort must expand if it's going to have much hope of heading off global warming.

"Even the U.S., by itself, isn't going to deal with this problem," said Mark Trexler, president of Trexler Climate + Energy Solutions, a Portland consultant who helps companies prepare for global warming regulations.

Utilities' hope

Power company officials said Monday they hope the Western states' strategy paves the way for a national system to control greenhouse gases. They said they would prefer a nationwide program to a complicated web of state and regional strategies.

"It would be nice to have something consistent," said Bekki Witt, a spokeswoman for PacifiCorp, which operates and buys power from 14 coal and natural gas plants.

The more states are involved, the broader the opportunities will be to buy and sell emissions credits in a way that keeps power prices down, said Dave Robertson, government affairs director at Portland General Electric. PGE is lobbying for national legislation, he said.

Many leading utility companies are now doing the same.

By driving up the price of fossil-fuel based power plants, the strategy could shift more efforts toward the development of renewable energy from the sun, wind and waves.

"It is also a huge economic development opportunity, particularly for those states who are most aggressive in leading the charge toward a clean energy future," Kulongoski said.

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