Cover

THE GREEN STATES

Washington may be slow, but others are picking up the slack

BARBARA WICKENS February 28 2005
Cover

THE GREEN STATES

Washington may be slow, but others are picking up the slack

BARBARA WICKENS February 28 2005

THE GREEN STATES

Washington may be slow, but others are picking up the slack

GEORGE W. BUSH’S pro-business agenda is enough to make a grown environmentalist cry. According to the New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bush administration took nearly 150 measures in 2004 alone that undermine legislation protecting air, water, wildlife, forests, parks and public health. Still, it’s his refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that provokes outrage in many places around the globe. The 1997 international accord, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, came into effect last week. But without the world’s largest emitter of heat-trapping pollutants among the signatories to the pact, many are questioning just how effective it can be.

Bush at least accepts the scientific consensus on global warming. His objection to Kyoto, he says, is what it would cost the U.S. economy. He instead prefers voluntary targets and developing new energy technologies to reduce the nation’s reliance on burning fossil fuels. But some states are

stepping into the legislative void-and their initiatives could prove significant. After all, many of Washington’s strongest environmental regulations had their origins at the state level. This time around, states are pushing a number of measures, from encouraging consumers to opt for energy from renewable sources, to setting industry caps to reduce emissions.

Many eyes are on California where a major battle with the auto industry is shaping up. Last September, after two years of deliberations, the state adopted landmark legislation requiring car manufacturers to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases by about 30 per cent by 2016. But five major automakers have joined in a legal action, claiming California lacks the authority to enact such legislation. Annie Petsonk, international counsel with Environmental Defense in Washington, says the suit makes little sense, especially as several of the manufacturers that have already invested in more fuel-efficient technologies would actually increase their profits if the California standards were adopted. She adds,

“What’s crazy is that the public wants cleaner cars, the car companies advertise cleaner cars, yet they’re going to court.” The eight states already poised to adopt the California standard will no doubt follow the case closely.

Some states have had more success regulating power generation. To date, 18, along with the District of Columbia, require utilities to gradually increase the amount of electricity they supply from renewable resources such as solar, wind and bioenergy. This is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 64.3 megatonnes by 2017, the equivalent of taking 9.6 million cars off the road. Ironically, Bush’s home state is considered a clean-power success story. Already well ahead of its 2005 interim target, Texas appears capable of generating the required 2,000 megawatts from renewable resources by 2009. Observers attribute this not only to the Lone Star state’s abundant renewable energy resources, but to a number of key provisions in the legislation thengovernor Bush signed into law in 1999. Among them: significant financial penalties to electricity providers that fail to meet targets. So much for voluntary.

BARBARA WICKENS