States Curb Carbon as Blueprint for Feds

By: - August 9, 2008 12:00 am


In the South, coal reigns as king in West Virginia and Kentucky, and oil and gas fuel the Texas and Louisiana economies. But Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) wants the region to take a more active role in reducing greenhouse gas pollution blamed for global warming.

The country’s other regions are trying to limit how much carbon dioxide and other pollutants to let in the atmosphere, but Southern governors largely have resisted the pollution caps and taxes promoted elsewhere.

On Monday (Aug. 8), Kaine will launch a year-long effort as head of the 16-state Southern Governors Association to prod his colleagues to weigh in on the national debate on global warming.

“Very likely we are going to end up with a national climate change initiative,” said Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner. Kaine views that likelihood “not as ‘The South is going to take a hit,’ but as ‘Let’s talk now about how the South adapts,'” she said.

There’s a growing push among environmental groups, industry and political leaders to limit greenhouse gas emissions nationally. But as congressional efforts have faltered, states are establishing policies that could be models for a future federal law.

Already, 23 states have joined regional agreements to lower carbon dioxide pollution. Six states passed caps for carbon dioxide released within their own borders, and more could follow soon.

Kaine won’t pitch any specific policies when he meets with his fellow governors Aug.8-11 in West Virginia, because he said he wants the executives to find ideas they can all agree on, Skinner said.

The Virginia governor’s push comes after three other major regional governors groups – in the Northeast, Midwest and West – launched multi-state efforts to combat climate change.

The three regional plans each try to limit emissions in their states, but the specifics vary.

A 10-state agreement among Northeast states will charge power producers for their carbon dioxide emissions starting in January. In 2012, the pact will put an overall cap on carbon dioxide emissions and then lower that amount every year after that.

But for now, the Northeastern limits apply only to power plants, the source of 39 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Seven Western states are trying a more ambitious arrangement , which would apply to all sources of greenhouse gases – not just power generators, but other industries and autos, too. Their pact would take effect in 2012.

Last November, six Midwest governors announced they, too, would impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions across all industries. They’re still drawing up that plan.

Canadian provinces are involved with all three initiatives. In fact, three provinces are full participants of the Western Climate Initiative, while another two Canadian provinces and six Mexican states along the U.S. border are participating as “observers” that are involved in the process but not bound by the pact’s rules.

All three agreements rely on what is known as a “cap-and-trade” mechanism that forces polluters to pay for the amount of carbon dioxide they emit.

But Southern governors – and leaders of fossil fuel-producing states, generally – have balked at such arrangements. At a February meeting of U.S. governors, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) called the idea “stupid.”

“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 then.

A bipartisan bill to launch a nationwide effort to cap carbon dioxide failed in the U.S. Senate in June, when supporters failed to get enough votes to cut off debate.

But key senators are renewing the push, after a federal court struck down on July 11 a similar restriction that limited pollutants causing acid rain and smog in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The decision invalidated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air rules limiting emissions of nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

The court said the EPA didn’t have the statutory authority to issue the rules, so U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., wants Congress to give the agency that power. He is also calling for carbon dioxide and mercury caps to be included in the rewritten law.

Some energy companies prefer a national policy on greenhouse gases to piecemeal approaches by states.

“We support a national program to deal with a worldwide issue. We don’t support these sort of state policies,” said Tom Williams, spokesman for Duke Energy , which operates in Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and South Carolina.

The broader the agreements on greenhouse gases, the more effective they’ll be, Williams said.

Cleaner energy can be more expensive, and companies could choose to move their operations to China where energy is cheaper rather than pay the additional costs. But the carbon dioxide released by factories in China has the same effect on global climate as the carbon dioxide released in the United States, he explained.

Six states – Connecticut, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington – have placed across-the-board limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

A gubernatorial task force in Wisconsin recommended a similar cap to Gov. Jim Doyle (D) last month. And Massachusetts lawmakers sent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) legislation, which he is expected to sign as early as this week, to impose caps there, too.

“When the next (presidential) administration comes in, we want them to have an idea of what the policy is going to look like,” because so many states have placed their own limits on carbon dioxide emissions, said Ben Wright, a global warming expert for Environment Massachusetts , which promoted the legislation there.

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