In lieu of federal action in the U.S. to combat global warming

In lieu of federal action in the U.S. to combat global warming, have any states taken local measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

—David, Monterey, CA

Though the Bush administration has been slow to even admit that global warming is a serious issue, and has rejected the terms of the Kyoto Protocol (an international agreement calling on developed nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions), more than 30 U.S. states have passed legislation and/or formed regional coalitions on their own to promote energy efficiency and reduce the emissions that cause global warming.

The leading state in the battle against climate change is California, which as early as 2002 began calling on carmakers to reduce the greenhouse gases generated by new vehicles sold there. In 2003, California joined neighbors Oregon and Washington in laying out a set of recommendations for how states could combat global warming by setting emissions reduction targets for state vehicle fleets and enacting energy efficiency standards for a wide range of other products. By the end of 2004, the west coast triumvirate had jointly adopted the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions upwards of 15 percent by 2015.

Always pushing the envelope, California then adopted a controversial measure requiring automakers to reduce their vehicles” greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. Since then, 14 other states—Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—have adopted California’s tough standards. With Canada’s government following suit in 2004, some 40 percent of North America’s new car fleet could be much cleaner within a decade—although carmakers are fighting the proposal tooth and nail.

Beyond automotive emissions, California is leading the charge against global warming in other ways. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order in 2004 calling for reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 80 percent over five decades. And in 2006 the state assembly passed its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act limiting the output of greenhouse gases there to 1990 levels by 2020. California is the world’s sixth largest economy and 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases, so its proactive stance should have a large impact on overall efforts to mitigate climate change.

Other efforts are underway as well. In 2006, seven northeastern states formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to create a system of economic incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each participating state—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont—has agreed to stabilize current emissions through 2015 followed by a 10 percent reduction over the following five years. Meanwhile 18 states, led by New York, Hawaii, Maine and California, have legislated that some of the electricity they consume must come from non-polluting renewable sources.

Given the groundswell of action to mitigate global warming at the state level—more than half of the U.S. population lives in states where reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are or will become mandatory—America may be able to meet the requirements laid out by the Kyoto Protocol, even without federal participation.

CONTACTS: California Climate Change Portal; Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative