Thursday, August 10, 2006

Local Action and Federal Inaction

Because of the lack of action from the Bush administration and Congress on environmental issues, many cities and states are taking the initiative on matters of global warming and energy consumption. As my last post noted, Chicago is one of these cities. The initiatives include requiring development of alternative energy sources and cutbacks in carbon dioxide emissions.

Recently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have set standards demanding that utilities generate a specific amount of energy -- in some cases, as high as 33 percent -- from renewable sources by 2020. And 11 states have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

California also has passed legislation mandating that automakers reduce their vehicles' carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2016, and 10 other states have committed to adopt the same standards if the law survives a court challenge.

In addition, as many as 10 states in the Northeast are working to establish state-by-state ceilings for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and allow industries such as power plants to trade pollution credits for carbon emissions while cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2019. California, Oregon and Washington are negotiating a similar pact.
Such moves are necessary in the light of increasing evidence that our planet is about to undergo radical changes in climate. (And some changes appear to be underway already.) Unfortunately there is much grumbling.
Margo Thorning, senior vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, said this array of state regulations could harm the U.S. economy.

"I don't think it's terribly helpful to have the industry wondering what are the car standards in California vis-a-vis the standards in Arizona," said Thorning, whose think tank is funded in part by Exxon Mobil Corp. "It adds a lot of uncertainty and slows the kind of investment we'd like to see in the U.S."
In a sense this is correct; state and local regulations can only accomplish so much in the face of a nationwide problem. The trouble is that industry lobbyists who complain about patchwork policies are likely the same who have stood in the way of a national comprehensive plan to address global warming for years now.