California Leads on Warming

NY Times Editorial – 5 Aug 2006

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who worries about global warming more than any other world leader, has finally found an important American ally: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. This week, the two agreed to collaborate on cleaner-burning technologies and to explore an emissions-reduction program that would combine mandatory controls on greenhouse gases with market incentives to reduce the costs of compliance.

Mr. Blair said he was not end-running his good friend President Bush. The governor was less diplomatic, saying that the administration and Congress had shown no leadership on the issue. In any case, the White House was a conspicuous no-show. No surprise there: the meeting of politicians and corporate executives, convened to discuss climate change, served only to dramatize how badly Washington lags both Britain and California with its program of voluntary reductions and Hail Mary technologies.

And California is about to get a lot tougher. Later this month, the Legislature will vote on two ground-breaking bills. One would set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions with a goal of reducing them to 1990 levels by 2020 — an ambitious undertaking by any measure.

The other is a strikingly original bill that would bar long-term contracts with any out-of-state utility that failed to meet strict standards for pollution. A coal-fired plant in Wyoming, for instance, could sell power into California only if it found ways to dispose of most of its carbon dioxide, instead of merely venting it into the atmosphere. A bill like this would not only help California meet its targets but could also help jump-start clean-coal technologies that will be essential to reducing carbon dioxide emissions in countries like China and India.

For good measure, the Legislature will entertain two more warming-related bills, and Californians will be asked to vote in November on a ballot initiative that would raise $4 billion to promote alternative fuels.

All of this is may be too ambitious even for environmentally conscious Californians. But a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that two-thirds of the state’s voters supported an aggressive attack on global warming. And while Mr. Schwarzenegger’s re-election chances will clearly benefit from appealing to these voters, this is a genuinely bipartisan effort of the sort that has completely eluded Congress.

Moreover, California has long enjoyed taking the lead on environmental issues and bringing other states with it. Four years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger signed the so-called Pavley bill aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars. Though the law has been challenged by the automobile companies and the Bush administration, 10 other states have adopted similar legislation.

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