Global warming, local action
Lack of national effort spurs states
By Stevenson Swanson
Tribune national correspondent
Published May 25, 2003
CONCORD, N.H. -- Imagine this state's White Mountains no longer draped in
white during the winter. The foliage that attracts thousands of
leaf-peepers in the fall fails to burst into fiery reds and golds. Fierce
storms batter beachfront property along the state's sliver of coastline.
Hoping to stave off such a future and save a $1.1 billion tourism industry,
New Hampshire is at the forefront of an increasing number of states
tackling a problem once assumed to be so big that only the federal
government could take it on: global warming.
Last year, the New Hampshire legislature passed the first state law
requiring power plants to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, the
main greenhouse gas believed to be altering Earth's climate. New Hampshire
is also part of a coalition of New England states and Canadian provinces
that have pledged to slash carbon dioxide emissions. And a new coalition of
environmental groups and political activists is launching an effort to make
global warming an issue in the state's closely watched presidential primary
With little prospect for a broad federal policy to control utility and
vehicle emissions nationwide, more than half the states have taken matters
into their own hands with policies that range from voluntary
energy-efficiency programs to mandatory controls on power plants and vehicles.
"There is sort of a vacuum in national leadership right now," said Adam
Markham, executive director of the New Hampshire environmental group Clean
Air-Cool Planet. "The only hope is to move things forward at the state and
The non-profit Pew Center on Global Climate Change cites 42 programs in 26
states as examples of how state governments are trying to control carbon
dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.
Among notable examples, California Gov. Gray Davis last year signed into
law the first regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles,
requiring automakers to achieve "the maximum feasible and cost-effective
reduction" of such emissions starting with 2009 models.
New Jersey is aiming for a 3.5 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas
emissions below 1990 levels through a statewide campaign to persuade
utilities, industries, universities and other institutions to cut their
energy consumption. The campaign is being financed by a charge on
consumers' utility bills.
Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are among 16 states that have set
either mandatory standards or voluntary goals for electric utilities to
produce a portion of their power from renewable sources such as wind and
In an attempt to find a regional solution to the problem, the six New
England states and five eastern Canadian provinces pledged in 2001 that
they would cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 20 percent from current
levels by 2010, with a further 10 percent reduction by 2020.
All aboard? Not exactly
Not all states are jumping aboard. Michigan, home of the automobile
industry, and West Virginia, which relies on coal mining as an economic
mainstay, are among several states that have decided not to take measures
to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Two of the biggest sources of carbon
dioxide pollution are coal-fired power plants and vehicles.
After years of scientific uncertainty, most climate scientists have
concluded that human activity is heating up the planet. Computer models
predict that the buildup of greenhouse gases could lead to an increase of 1
to 5 degrees in Earth's average temperature in the next 50 years. That
deceptively small figure could disrupt worldwide weather patterns and cause
sea levels to rise as the polar ice caps shrink.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush promised to regulate
carbon dioxide emissions. After taking office, Bush announced that
regulating such emissions would strain an already weak economy.
And, in 2001, the Bush administration pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol,
the 1997 international agreement to control carbon dioxide emissions. The
administration said the treaty was flawed because it did not require large
developing countries such as India and China to cut their emissions.
Meanwhile, economic growth, the demand for bigger vehicles and increased
demand for electricity caused annual U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases to
jump 14 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental
States see a variety of risks ahead if temperatures rise. In the
agricultural Midwest, growing seasons could change or droughts could become
more frequent, cutting crop yields or leading to more irrigation, which
would place greater demand on water supplies.
Coastal states that have enacted climate-change programs, such as New
Jersey, cite the potential for greater beach erosion and oceanfront
property damage from higher sea levels and more violent storms.
Threat to tourism
New Hampshire officials fear higher average temperatures will lead to a
drop in snowfall, the source of a $209million-a-year ski industry, and to a
decline in sugar maples, which produce the most dramatic fall foliage. The
three-month fall tourist season pumps $888 million into the state's economy.
"They're very important sectors for us," said Joanne Morin, climate-change
manager in the state's Environmental Services Department. "Doesn't it make
sense to take steps that are energy- and cost-efficient to address that?"
The state's energy-efficiency program is similar to efforts in other
states to reduce electrical demand, but the Granite State's Clean Power Act
of 2002 was the first in the country to require power plants to cut carbon
dioxide emissions as part of a broad pollution-reduction effort.
The law, which received bipartisan support, gives three New Hampshire
power plants that burn coal, oil or natural gas until 2006 to cut emissions
by about 3 percent. Supporters say that modest reduction is likely to be
ratcheted up in the future.
"My philosophy on any environmental legislation is that as long as the
ball is heading down the field, we're going in the right direction," said
Ted Leach, a Republican state representative who supported the Clean Power
Act. "I looked at this as a starting place."
Leach is the Republican co-chairman of the Carbon Coalition, an
amalgamation of environmentalists, politicians and interested citizens that
was formed last month to call attention to global warming when New
Hampshire takes center stage at the start of next year's presidential
"We want to get this subject on the agenda of the presidential wannabes,"
Leach said. "The way you measure that is when global warming becomes part
of the stump speech."
Getting the issue on the national radar screen is important to the
coalition because even large states can do little to affect the global
buildup of greenhouse gases. If Illinois were a separate country, it would
rank 29th in the world in such emissions, behind the Netherlands, Turkey
and North Korea.
But environmental policy experts say state programs could someday serve as
a model for national global-warming programs, similar to state innovations
in welfare reform and prescription drug coverage.
"The bottom line is that it's unlikely these actions unilaterally are
going to deliver huge reductions," said Barry Rabe, a University of
Michigan professor who tracks state climate-change programs. "This is part
of a very early testing of approaches and policies that could be picked up
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune