Governors’ Talks Target Clean Coal, Carbon Tax

By: - February 24, 2008 12:00 am

The nation’s governors have few questions about whether global warming is a looming threat, but some major differences about how to address the problem.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), this year’s chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA), is seeking consensus with his peers on actions states should take to encourage more renewable energy and conservation, as well as spur the latest technologies to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

Nearly all governors are in the nation’s capital for the NGA’s annual meeting that began Saturday (Feb. 23).

As NGA chairman, Pawlenty has launched a year-long initiative, “Securing a Clean Energy Future,” that outlines the need to diversify the nation’s energy supply to avoid dire economic and environmental costs.

“By 2030, we will be providing only 65 percent of our own energy needs – 35 percent will come from foreign sources, mostly oil. Our total energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions are projected to increase more than 25 percent by 2030. Continuing down this dangerous pathway risks our economic well-being, energy security, environmental future and quality of life,” Pawlenty states in his report.

While there is broad agreement about the need to “green” the country’s energy supply with more wind and solar power, the future costs of regulating greenhouse gases are a major concern of governors from oil- and coal-producing states.

“I don’t think there’s any kind of consensus among the people that were in there; we’re almost 50 different opinions,” said Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) after a closed-door discussion among governors to begin hammering out a joint policy.

Minnesota has been at the forefront of clean-energy efforts, becoming one of a handful of states to pass a law to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and other industrial sources. It also is one of 26 states that require a percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It has joined more than a dozen states agreeing to adopt California’s standards cutting greenhouse gases from automobile tailpipes and is one of just seven states that mandate the use of ethanol in gasoline.

Pawlenty also spearheaded a Midwestern regional effort to establish a carbon-dioxide cap-and-trade system to meet pollution limits with five other states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. The Midwestern agreement is similar to initiatives by nine Northeastern states and seven Western states.

To bolster his arguments, Pawlenty invited Jeffrey R. Immelt , chief executive of energy giant General Electric, to address the governors. GE is one of the major corporations that have joined environmental groups to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership , which is calling for stronger nationwide regulations of greenhouse gases.

Immelt echoed Pawlenty’s advice that a secure energy future would require a diverse power supply, including renewable sources. But he said there still needs to be massive investments in nuclear power, which now provides nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, and in technology to make coal cleaner-burning.

That resonated with governors from coal states, who are concerned that their economies will be hard-hit by the “green” energy movement. Coal provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity, but it also emits the greatest amount of carbon dioxide.

Coal states are willing to support limits on greenhouse gases, but they need greater federal financial and regulatory support for emerging technologies that gasify coal to make it cleaner-burning or that bury the carbon dioxide underground, said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D).

Immelt, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman , who also addressed governors at the opening session, urged states and the federal government to tax carbon-dioxide emissions or to set up cap-and-trade systems to give the financial markets some long-term certainty about the future economic costs of fossil fuels.

That idea, however, met with strong opposition from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who called a carbon tax “stupid.” The Gulf Coast states, such as Mississippi, are major providers of the nation’s domestic oil and natural gas, and Southern governors in general are unlikely to support measures that would increase energy prices.

“I can tell you right now, I’m against taxing carbon. People in my state pay more for gasoline right now than we want them to pay, and their electric bills are higher than we want them to be,” Barbour said.

Besides discussing Pawlenty’s energy agenda privately, the Western Governors Association heard from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson Saturday. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) rapped Johnson for his decision to deny at least 15 states’ request to regulate carbon dioxide from automobile emissions.

A Sunday (Feb. 24) meeting will target the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Scheduled to meet with the governors are U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and several members of a congressionally chartered panel that recently reported on the 50-year needs of America’s roads, rails and bridges. Although Peters served on the commission, she refused to sign its final report and issued a strong rebuke of its recommendation to raise gasoline taxes by 40 cents.

Governors also will discuss strategies for turning around struggling schools and the future fiscal challenges of long-term health care.

The states’ top elected officials will be carrying their messages to the White House, dining with President George Bush on Saturday evening and meeting with him in a private, hour-long discussion on Monday morning.

Governors also will be making the rounds in congressional hearings and speaking to several think tanks early in the week.

Eight governors plan to visit Capitol Hill Tuesday (Feb. 26) to encourage Congress to help them on health-care initiatives. Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts, Gregoire (D) of Washington, Ted Strickland (D) of Ohio, Barbour (R) of Mississippi and Sonny Perdue (R) of Georgia are scheduled to talk to a House panel about insuring more low-income children.

Pawlenty and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), the NGA’s top two officers, are slated to discuss how to encourage small businesses to provide health coverage with a separate House panel.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) is scheduled to address the Senate Finance Committee on the states’ economic condition, with an emphasis on how the federal government is shifting costs back to the states, her spokeswoman said.

Pawlenty and New Mexico’s Richardson also are invited as keynote speakers in separate sessions of a two-day meeting hosted by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change Feb. 25-26. The event will focus on innovative federal and state approaches to combat global warming.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is scheduled to speak Monday afternoon (Feb. 25) to the American Enterprise Institute about his policies to expand transportation funding and reform telecommunications and the health-care system.

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