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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Feel the Heat

Air Date: Week of

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California is leading the state and local level charge against global warming with proposed legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. With the Bush administration unwilling to impose carbon limits, Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman takes a look at who's filling the federal government's regulatory shoes.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

You've no doubt seen the slogan on a bumper sticker: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Well, this week, that theme was underscored on the subject of curbing gases that cause global warming. States and cities are taking the leadership role, while in Washington it’s still talk but little action. Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman reports.

GELLERMAN: Last June, in the middle of what turned out to be the second hottest year on record, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that his state – the 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases – could no longer wait for Washington to combat climate change.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I say the debate is over. We know the signs, we see the threat, and we know the time for action is now.

GELLERMAN: Schwarzenegger signed an executive order creating the state's Climate Action Team, directing it to come up with strategies to dramatically cut California's emission of greenhouse gases. And this week, it did. The Action Team handed the governor a 1,300 page report. In it more than 50 recommendations, including strategies to boost renewable energy supplies, create emission credits, and, more controversial, impose a cap on industrial greenhouse gases and require companies to report their emissions.

The day the Action report was released, California Assemblywoman Fran Pavley introduced a bill that would put teeth in the recommendations.

PAVLEY: Primarily what the bill will do is begin a mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions so we can establish a baseline, and then we’d put a cap on those emissions.

GELLERMAN: Well, you’ve said the two magic words: “mandatory” and “cap.”

PAVLEY: Those are the two magic words, and how we get there, of course, will be the subject of a lot of discussion.

GELLERMAN: The discussions begin in earnest on April 11th, when Governor Schwarzenegger convenes a Summit on Climate Change in San Francisco. And in the coming weeks he'll travel around the state to see how cities and counties can do more to curb greenhouse emissions.

Lawmaker Fran Pavley says he’ll find that local governments are already leading the way.

PAVLEY: There’s a county in California called Sonoma County. All ten cities in Sonoma County have adopted targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and 47 of their 50 local elected officials have signed on to this. So we’re seeing cities really being very, very creative and doing their fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

GELLERMAN: California's actions stand in stark contrast to President Bush's view on climate change and greenhouse emissions. In his most recent public remarks about global warming, the president reiterated his belief that mandates and caps aren't the way to go.

BUSH: I believe the best way to put technologies in place that will not only achieve national objectives like less addiction to oil but also help clean the air, is to be wealthy enough to invest in technologies.

GELLERMAN: The president says mandates and caps would cause massive layoffs. But according to a new study from the University of California-Berkeley, cutting emissions to the levels targeted by Governor Schwarzenegger will boost the state's economy by $60 billion and create 20,000 new jobs by 2020.

And it's not just California that’s feeling, and reacting, to the heat.

CHAVEZ: This is an incredibly important issue and, of course, America’s mayors are beginning to lead the way.

GELLERMAN: Martin Chavez, mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was among local officials and environmentalists attending a press conference this past week in advance of a workshop in
Washington convened by the Senate Energy Committee. Local officials urged senators to take immediate action. But while federal officials are talking the talk, mayors like Chavez are walking the walk – and driving cleaner cars.

CHAVEZ: At least half of our fleet is now alternative vehicles, and I’ve issued an executive
order: we will no longer purchase any vehicles in the fleet that are not alternative fuel.

GELLERMAN: Last year, the U.S. Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling for action to curb climate changing gases. New Mexico's Republican Senator Pete Domenici, chairman of the Energy Committee, championed the bill. And this week, Domenici lead the senate workshop where 29 experts from energy corporations, businesses and environmental groups testified about ways to cut greenhouse gases. Conspicuously absent were any representatives from the auto industry. Also absent, at least in Senator Domenici's mind, is the chance that Congress and the president will pass legislation this year limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

DOMENICI: Designing and implementing a mandatory system will be very difficult, both politically and economically. But I also feel now, as I did then, that we need to start somewhere. We need to start somewhere, and this conference is our starting point.

GELLERMAN: Critics say time is running out, and when all is said and done in Washington about climate change, they charge that more is said than done. Here's California Assemblywoman Fran Pavley.

PAVLEY: The federal role right now has been missing in action, and we need the federal government to step up to the plate.

GELLERMAN: What are you looking for the feds to do? What’s their role?

PAVLEY: Right now it would be just, get out of our way. (Laughs)

GELLERMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Bruce Gellerman.



California Climate Action Team

Assembly Bill 32 – California Climate Act of 2006

University of California – Berkeley study: “Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in California”


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