/ 25 August 2005

US states bypass Bush on greenhouse gas emissions

America’s north-eastern states are on the brink of a declaration of environmental independence with the introduction of mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions of the kind rejected by the Bush administration.

In the first regional agreement of its kind in the United States, nine states are expected to announce a plan next month to freeze carbon dioxide emissions from big power stations by 2009 and then reduce them by 10% by 2020.

The region stretches from New Jersey to Maine and generates roughly the same volume of emissions as Germany.

Pennsylvania and Maryland have signed on as observers to the regional initiative and are considering joining it at a later date.

On the other side of the continent, California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and Arizona are exploring similar agreements, representing a clear break between state governments and Washington over global warming.

The outline of the north-eastern states’ draft agreement was published on Wednesday in The New York Times, and its main features were confirmed by Dale Bryk, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defence Council, who has been monitoring progress of the regional initiative. The 2009 freeze and the 10% reduction by 2020 were ”a done deal”, Bryk said. ”They plan to have a memorandum of understanding by the end of September.”

She added: ”It’s huge. It’s a drumbeat, and more and more states and regions are heading down this road. It’s going to change the discussion at the federal level … It’s going to take the argument off the table [that] we can’t do this because it’s too expensive, there are too many obstacles.”

The Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto protocol on climate change in 2001, and restated its opposition at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July, arguing that its mandatory emissions targets would devastate the US economy.

In July, Washington signed a separate pact with Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea, which did not fix emissions targets but instead set out to encourage the private sector of green technologies and their transfer to industrialising countries.

”We welcome all efforts to help meet the president’s goal for reducing greenhouse gas intensity by investing in new, more efficient technologies,” said Michele St Martin, a spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

”We believe it is a better approach than regulatory mandates that would increase already high energy bills for consumers, put people out of work or achieve reductions simply by buying more energy from, and shifting emissions to, other states and other countries.”

The US response to global warming has split the Republican party. Two powerful Republican state governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and George Pataki in New York, have played leading roles in the regional initiatives.

Andrew Rush, Pataki’s spokesperson, said on Wednesday he could not comment on the nine-state agreement as it was still in draft form. But he added: ”I know we’ve made a lot of progress and we’re still working hard on it.”

The regional greenhouse gas initiative, as the north-eastern plan is titled, will allow for emissions trading, so that power stations in one state with lower emissions than their mandatory ceiling could sell the rest of their allowance in other states. The same system, pioneered in sulphur dioxide control in the US, is currently being used to curb greenhouse gases in Europe.

The north-eastern pact is less ambitious than the Kyoto accord, which freezes emissions at the 1990 level and imposes a 7% reduction by 2012.

The plan will initially only apply to power stations with an output of more than 25 megawatts, of which there are about 600 across the region, but it could later be extended to large manufacturing plants. The states are New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Delaware. Some states will need to ratify the agreement in their state legislatures, but that is not expected to be a significant obstacle.

The scheme is expected initially to raise energy prices in the states involved.

In a separate initiative, the mayors of more than 130 cities, including New York and Los Angeles, agreed earlier this year to meet the emissions reductions envisaged in the Kyoto accord, independent of federal policy decided in Washington. – Guardian Unlimited Â