States Team Up on Environment
The global warming pact recently struck by seven states in the Northeast is pioneering in how it aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but it is just the latest example of states’ increasing use of a team approach to environmental problems.
From the North to the Midwest to the West, states are pooling their efforts to devise regional solutions to problems that know no political boundaries – from air pollution, to energy, to water use.
The Northeastern effort to take on global warming, announced Dec. 20, sets up a market for about 180 power plants in the region to buy, sell and trade credits for emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that climate scientists say is one of the main causes of global warming. The agreement among the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont comes after two years of laborious discussions, including the last-minute withdrawal of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
While individual state actions can seem like a drop in the bucket of a worldwide issue, regional efforts allow states to parlay their size to a greater effect without relying on Washington, D.C., to take the lead. The United States emits nearly a quarter of the greenhouse gas on the planet, but if the nine states originally involved in the deal were a country, they would be the sixth-largest climate polluter in the world, according to a report by the Environmental Business Association of New York State .
“More and more states are looking to find partners with other states to work on climate change and clean energy,” said Judi Greenwald, a policy director at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change , which like Stateline.org is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Other examples of regional efforts by states:
- California, Oregon and Washington formed a coalition in November 2004 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing hybrid cars and increasing energy efficiency in appliances. The three West Coast states also have floated the idea of creating a carbon-emissions market similar to the Northeast’s.
- The governors of the eight states bordering the Great Lakes have been working together since the 1980s and announced a strict new plan Dec. 13 to control use of the world’s largest freshwater system.
- Eighteen western states reached an agreement in June 2004 setting goals to boost clean energy use and to increase energy efficiency in the region.
- Elected and government officials from five states in the Midwest and Northern Plains began a Powering the Plains effort in 2001 with the private sector and environmental advocates to study and encourage job creation by promoting biofuels, wind power and other sources of alternative energy. They will be presenting a broad plan for energy production in June 2006.
- Governors from the six New England states and five Canadian provinces set up a broad agreement in 2001 to deal with regional environmental issues, including greenhouse gas emissions.
- Thirteen western states, several Indian tribes and the federal government have been working together under a partnership since 1997 to cut haze in national parks and address air-quality issues in the region.
In the case of the Northeastern agreement on carbon dioxide, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, multiple states and a cross-border market were necessary to make the arrangement more efficient, according to Greenwald, who has been working with states on the agreement.
“The more states you get involved, the bigger your universe in which you can trade, and the more effective you can be,” Greenwald told Stateline.org .
The agreement sets a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions allowed by each state, which then divvies its allowances to power plants based on current pollution levels. If a plant is over its allotment, the operator can purchase extra emission credits from a plant that is under its cap, giving the plants flexibility but maintaining the overall limit. The program would begin in 2009, halt current carbon-dioxide emission levels through 2015 and reduce them 10 percent by 2019.
Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and five Canadian provinces have left open the possibility of opting into the pact. Massachusetts and Rhode Island also may rejoin.
Binding Regional Agreements Come With Their Share of Hurdles
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney , who earlier this month announced a go-it-alone plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, publicly backed the regional initiative in November, calling it “good business,” but then reneged on his support in December. A spokesman said Romney’s hesitation was over fear that the pact will increase energy prices, echoing the concerns of business groups and industries in the region.
To control energy price increases, Romney had insisted on setting a price cap for the emissions credits, but the other states refused, claiming that an artificial cap would disrupt market forces created by the deal, according to Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for New York Gov. George Pataki , who initiated the deal in 2003.
Other business groups expressed concerns that the pact would create a confusing web of laws, which would drive industries out of the area.
However, a regional approach might be easier on businesses than individual state efforts, according to Bill Becker, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials .
“The disadvantage [of single state efforts] is that you get a multi-headed, hydra approach, where the states have a whole variety of different laws, and that can prove difficult for businesses to navigate,” Becker said.
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