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Governors Target Global Warming

Davis joins the chief executives of Oregon and Washington in announcing a campaign to reduce diesel exhaust.

September 23, 2003|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis and two other Western state governors announced on Monday a campaign to fight sooty diesel exhaust and emissions linked to global warming.

The announcement by the chief executives of California, Oregon and Washington was hailed by conservationists as an important alliance they hope will lead to better environmental quality. They also hoped the move would serve notice to the federal government that if it is not prepared to reckon with carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say are harmful to the planet, the states will act on their own.

Under the plan, the three states would coordinate strategies to promote use of high-mileage, low-polluting hybrid cars; encourage energy-efficient buildings; cut tailpipe exhaust that contributes to smog and haze; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The governors also pledged to reduce emissions from cargo ships that dock at West Coast ports.

Big-rig trucks plying Interstate 5, which runs through Washington's Puget Sound region, Oregon's Willamette Valley and California's Central Valley, are also targets for controls. Trucks and ships are a major source of smog and haze in Southern California.

But the proposals lack specific details, and no new legislation or executive orders were announced to move the ideas from the drawing board into law. Instead, the governors agreed to direct state agencies to draw up strategies by September 2004.

While the states have already made limited progress toward the alliance's goals -- last year Davis signed into law a measure requiring automakers to reduce greenhouse gases from automobile tailpipes -- significant challenges lie ahead.

Stephanie Williams, vice president of the California Trucking Assn., said the industry will watch very closely as Pacific Coast states attempt to regulate truck emissions. Diesel soot from 1.9 million big rigs entering California annually is a health hazard -- the tiny exhaust particles lodge deep in the lungs and are linked to cancer -- but Williams said federal law precludes states from regulating big trucks.

The governors are considering plans to require trucks to connect to an electric power supply, rather than using their engines to operate generators, while parked at truck stops along Interstate 5.

"Most of the trucks in California are from Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, and there aren't too many from Oregon and Washington," Williams said. "We support ideas to stop idling trucks, it's a great idea, but interstate trucks are regulated by the Department of Transportation."

Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) said she will support the tri-state environmental agenda, but acknowledges that some of the goals will be difficult to achieve in an era of tight budgets.

"The money is a challenge right now. All these things can be done. Will it be next year? Probably not," Pavley said.

Making a stop on the campaign trail two weeks before the scheduled Oct. 7 recall election, Davis ascended a hill at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area overlooking smoggy downtown Los Angeles. He was joined by fellow Democrat Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, who read a statement in support of the environmental measures on behalf of Oregon's Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

"It's the first time a governor has said he will control ship emissions and deal with diesel emissions of trucks. There are real teeth here to clean up the air and reduce global warming," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For Davis, the venue provided an opportunity to curry favor with environmentally minded voters and to criticize the Bush administration for what he described as a failure to act on environmental issues crucial to California.

"The Bush administration is still in denial over global warming. They have their head in the Texas sand," Davis said. "If Washington, D.C., will not lead, then the leaders of the Western states of the United States will lead on global warming."

California, Oregon and Washington have pioneered many environmental programs over the years. Oregon, for example, enacted the nation's first bottle bill.

"There's a long history of cooperation across state and party lines in the West when dealing with environmental issues," said Christopher McKinnon, program manager for the Western Governors' Assn. "I wouldn't be surprised to see the other governors start talking to one another and say, 'Look we've got to deal with this and work together.'"

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