The Big Cooldown

My town celebrated Earth Day about a month late, because the committee was waiting for a good date to use one of the local schools. Better late than never, I say. There were displays from solar groups, feel-good literature from the utility companies, and a surprisingly strong showing from the fuel-cell people, including a display from Avalence (launched by one of the founders of E), makers of a user-friendly hydrogen filler. There were also things for kids to do, and a pack of eco-conscious costumed figures.

I had the opportunity to talk for a few minutes about E"s new global warming book, Feeling the Heat, and heap praise on some of the legislators there for my state"s passage of a clean car law. Yes, Connecticut now joins New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Jersey in following California"s very stringent emissions laws, which will mean cleaner air throughout the region. Support for the bill was nearly unanimous, and Connecticut"s embattled governor says he will sign it.

Making progress with global warming is harder. Given the vacuum in the White House (President Bush reneged on a promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions), state and regional efforts become all the more important. In 2001, the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers signed an agreement to reduce CO2 to 1990 levels by 2010. By 2020, they want to be 10 percent below 1990 levels. In other words, they effectively endorsed the Kyoto accords.

Connecticut is part of the New England Climate Coalition, which endorses some effective strategies for actually reaching the Northeastern goals. Here"s a few of them:

  • The region and each of the states should establish mandatory reporting of CO2 and other global warming gasses by 2005;
  • Electric utilities should reduce emissions (especially from "grandfathered" coal plants) by 40 percent from current levels;
  • The region and states should set a 10 percent target for purchase of new, renewable energy by 2010, and 20 percent by 2020;
  • States should lead by example: A) green the state vehicle fleet; and B) reduce state energy use by 25 percent by 2010.

    Brooke Suter, coordinator of the Connecticut Climate Coalition, points out that Connecticut has yet to create a state action plan to reduce CO2. The embattled governor has finalized a list of greenhouse gas reductions, but these are non-binding recommendations.

    Massachusetts has already taken action, producing its state plan May 6. "This plan lays out a path toward a cleaner, healthier future for Massachusetts," says Frank Gorke, MASSPIRG energy advocate. Among the plan"s provisions:

  • Finalizing the state"s clean car requirement and supporting California"s forthcoming limits on vehicle CO2 emissions;
  • Reaffirming the state"s commitments to promotion of renewable energy and to reducing CO2 emissions from the "Filthy Five" coal-fired power plants;
  • Leading by example: greening the operation of state properties and reducing the state’s energy use 25 percent by 2012;
  • Enhanced carbon pollution reporting requirements for public projects;
  • Commitments to address emissions from the air-traffic sector; and
  • Commitments to press states and provinces throughout the region to move forward with clean car requirements and stringent appliance efficiency standards.

    Other states and regions are beginning to address the massive global warming problem as well. In Washington State, for example, a groundbreaking law requires fossil-fueled power plants with a generating capacity of 25 megawatts or more to mitigate 20 percent of the CO2 emissions the plant produces over 30 years. That means that new plants actually have to plant trees or take some other action to offset global warming emissions—beyond building very clean plants. This requirement also applies to new power plants, and existing plants that increase production of CO2 emissions by 15 percent.

    Washington"s law stands by itself, but as Stateline.org reports, a total of 39 states have global warming laws. "Oregon"s program requires new power plants to offset 17 percent of their emissions by paying into the Oregon Climate Trust, a nonprofit agency created by the state in 1997 that funds global warming mitigation projects worldwide," Stateline says. "The Climate Trust is currently funding 11 projects expected to offset about 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide at a cost of $5 million."

    Meanwhile, back in Connecticut, I visited a booth where a genial fellow was offering free smoothies made by a blender connected to a Ballard fuel cell. It was delicious.