No matter what the president said Wednesday about his global warming commitment, many of America’s governors aren’t buying. Long ago they gave up hope of White House leadership on the subject and have taken matters into their own hands.
Today, the governors are meeting at Yale to discuss ways they can combat global warming that directly affect their states. At the heart of their discussions are greenhouse gas emissions, from vehicles and coal-fired power plants, that the administration refuses to control or won’t let states control.
Leading the way is California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, still battling Bush over the president’s refusal to approve California’s plan to regulate tailpipe emissions in a state whose vehicles contribute more global warming gases than any other state. The governor’s energy adviser candidly declared that "the states are designing the true U.S. climate policy."
But Schwarzenegger notwithstanding, the real star at the conference is Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who has achieved near-heroic national stature for her 7-month fight against coal and for clean energy.
Sebelius rejected a plan to greatly expand coal-fired power generation in her state, unleashing a reactionary firestorm among politicians and powerful business interests. Sebelius is resolute that Kansas choose clean energy alternatives over coal plants that spew climate-changing pollutants.
The Sebelius stand has helped fuel a state-by-state rebellion against coal power. Last year alone, states stalled or outright rejected plans for 59 coal-fired plants. Other plant projects simply died for lack of financing as major financial institutions recognized that coal has become a risky business.
Why risky? Because, despite White House resistance, forward-looking business leaders have joined with governors and courts across the country in recognizing that mandatory caps on carbon emissions are coming. The technology for stopping those emissions from coal plants has not yet been proven and is going to be expensive. All of this is leading to a true national clean energy agenda—emerging in spite of this administration but just in time for the next.
Halting the proliferation of carbon-based energy is the critical first step towards setting the energy agenda. To fully accomplish this, however, we must set mandatory limits on emissions in our country and join with other countries in setting global emission standards.
A potent clean energy policy also includes financial incentives and investment in research. There is tremendous money-making potential in such alternatives as wind, geothermal and solar. Last year in the U.S., venture capital investment in clean energy totaled $2.7 billion—a whopping 70 percent increase over the year before. Imagine the impact if the federal government reinvested its $1 trillion annual subsidy of carbon energy into sustainable sources.
Energy efficiency is one of the most overlooked, but vital, components of an effective clean energy policy. By adopting serious efficiency standards, we could slash energy consumption—and thus greenhouse gases—by a third. Earthjustice recently sued the Department of Energy because of weak standards governing electric transformers.
And finally, a national energy policy should embrace at its core the principle that we are citizens of a world in crisis with a collective responsibility to help solve it. More than a few governors have obviously reached that conclusion, and by their actions give us hope that our nation at long last may follow.