Now that 2010 has gone down as one of history’s hottest years, many states are choosing not to wait for Congress to tackle global warming and are taking their own steps to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
States are increasingly adopting stricter, energy-saving building codes; spending more money (partly federal) on energy efficiency; and prodding polluters to cut heat-trapping emissions.
“This is groundbreaking work the states are doing to provide leadership,” says Kevin Kennedy of the California Air Resources Board, a state agency that approved rules in December to cut the state’s carbon dioxide emissions 15% by 2020. This month, California began to require new TVs be more energy efficient, to phase out incandescent light bulbs (one year ahead of the national phaseout) and to enforce a green building code.
These efforts come as last year’s Democratic-controlled Congress failed to approve a climate change bill and the new Republican-led House of Representatives seeks to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions.
States nearly doubled their spending on energy efficiency from 2007 to 2009, and twice as many—now at least 20—have proposed or adopted energy-saving building codes since 2009, according to a study in October by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a non-profit group.
States are acting individually and collectively:
Massachusetts announced last month that it will cut greenhouse gas emissions 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. “It’s very doable,” says Richard Sullivan, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “When you focus on energy efficiency, you can go a long way.” This year, the state will help fund ultra-efficient retrofits for some homes and give them a miles-per-gallon type of efficiency label. It’s working to allow auto insurers to base their rates partly on a car’s annual mileage.
Three regional groups, representing at least 22 states, agreed last year to work together on “cap-and-trade” programs. The programs cap total emissions but allow businesses that pollute a lot to buy emissions credits from those that pollute less.
The regional groups include the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, signed by 10 governors, and the Western Climate Initiative, in which California, New Mexico, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec are slated next January to begin a cap-and-trade program.
They’re following the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Since 2009, 10 Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states have required power plants to buy allowances for emitting CO2, raising $777 million and reinvesting 80% of that in clean energy.
“You can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without having a significant impact on ratepayers,” says Jonathan Shrag, the group’s executive director, noting the average monthly bill rose 73 cents.
RGGI’s consumer costs will escalate when carbon dioxide cuts are fully phased in, says David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He says such programs will slow economic growth and raise energy costs—arguments that helped torpedo Congress’ cap-and-trade bill. Kreutzer calls state efforts to cut greenhouses gas emissions “anemic and sporadic.”
Some states, notably Texas, are bucking the EPA’s efforts to regulate emissions, and several new governors, including Susana Martinez, R-N.M., have balked at cap-and-trade plans.
States, emboldened by Congress’ inaction, will increasingly pick up the slack, says Dale Bryk of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. She predicts, “We will see a lot more action this year.”
Wendy Koch(c) Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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