States Target Greenhouse Gases


States are taking steps to reduce America's contributions to global warming in the face of federal inaction.

The Bush administration favors voluntary programs encouraging companies to track and reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases-- like carbon dioxide and methane-- that scientists believe are contributing to a rise in global temperatures.

With the United States producing a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, many states have taken matters into their own hands by regulating utility emissions or carbon dioxide from vehicles.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said, "States are perceiving a vacuum in federal leadership and are moving forward on their own, sometimes in cautious ways, and with the notion they they're going to experiment with some different approaches."

California's innovative law on curbing greenhouse gases requires state air regulators to start a program by 2009 to cut emissions from automotive vehicles. New York Gov. George Pataki promoted a similar plan in his State of the State address, and the U.S. Congress is considering a national limit on the release of carbon dioxide.

State action is building momentum for dealing with carbon dioxide on the national level, Claussen said. (Stateline is funded by the same philanthropy that supports the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.)

In his State of the Union address, President Bush called for action on a "Clear Skies" initiative that promises reductions in three power-plant pollutants: mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. But the plan doesn't cover carbon dioxide, a gas emitted from transportation-related sources, such as cars and buses, that accounts for 32 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Three statesMassachusetts, Maine and Connecticut--- sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January, arguing that the Bush administration is jeopardizing the health of its residents and violating clean-air laws by failing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Thus far, no other states have plans to follow their lead.

In the absence of a mandatory national policy, many states have forged ahead to try to lower emissions.

In May 2002, New Hampshire became the first state to legislatively require fossil fuel plants to reduce emissions of four pollutants, including carbon dioxide.

Other states are undertaking educational campaigns to reduce greenhouse gases, turning methane gas from landfills into energy, promoting carpooling and natural gas vehicles. Oregon became the first state to use its Capitol to generate solar power last year.

"Whether or not the federal government acts, state actions historically have influenced greenhouse gases," said Barry Rabe, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Michigan and chief author of a study conducted by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "There's a growing expectation that a lot of the leadership on environmental energy is going to come at the state level."

State approaches to greenhouse gases are varied:

  • In December, New Jersey partnered with churches to promote the use of renewable energy.
  • Massachusetts was the first state to establish a multi-pollutant cap that includes carbon monoxide for six power plants in April 2001.
  • A Nebraska program uses crop rotation to increase the amount of farmland that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Wisconsin established mandatory reporting for large carbon dioxide generators.

Regional cooperation is proving increasingly possible. New England governors and the premiers of five eastern provinces of Canada reaffirmed goals in August 2002 to develop a common framework for reducing greenhouse gases.

Many states ramped up their "green" programs after President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 climate treaty that has been ratified by most of the world's industrial countries. Bush said the treaty, in which nations agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions, would hurt the U.S. economy.


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