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Governor, Blair Reach Environmental Accord

Schwarzenegger, saying the state `will not wait' for federal government to act on global warming, signs pact with Britain's prime minister.

August 01, 2006|Deborah Schoch and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and British Prime Minister Tony Blair signed an agreement on Monday to work together to curb greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean-burning fuels and collaborate on research to fight global warming.

Blair and Schwarzenegger announced the agreement at a meeting at the Port of Long Beach with prominent California and European business leaders on climate issues.

"California will not wait for our federal government to take strong action on global warming," said Schwarzenegger in a statement. "International partnerships are needed in the fight against global warming, and California has a responsibility and a profound role to play to protect not only our environment, but to be a world leader on this issue as well."

At the meeting, Blair called global warming "long term, the single biggest issue we face."

The agreement stops short of recommending mandatory cap-and-trade programs or other regulations that Britain and other European countries have implemented, which some environmentalists and Democratic state lawmakers are advocating.

Instead, the pact calls for studying the economic benefits and costs of such programs and of new energy technology, with an eye to a possible joint emissions trading program between California and Britain in the future.

BP Chief Executive Officer John Browne hosted the meeting at its terminal in Long Beach, with a company oil tanker looming in the background.

Blair and Schwarzenegger met privately with an array of corporate leaders, including Virgin Group Chief Executive Richard Branson, DuPont chief Charles O. Holliday Jr., Edison International chief John Bryson and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The session was organized by the Climate Group, a London-based nonprofit organization.

At the news conference, reporters asked Blair and Schwarzenegger whether the agreement was an attempt to sidestep the Bush administration, which has been criticized for not acknowledging climate change more forcefully or embracing strong measures to combat it. The Bush administration favors voluntary emissions reductions rather than regulation.

Schwarzenegger responded that California would not wait for Washington to act, and he called climate change "the single most important issue" faced by the world community.

At a morning press briefing, the governor's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, offered a milder comment. "Just to be clear," he said, for the press to report that the state was "bypassing the federal administration to enter into agreements with Great Britain would be wrong."

Schwarzenegger's environmental officials said they are in "constant contact" with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials about global warming. But Cal-EPA secretary Linda Adams said that no draft of the agreement had been shown to federal officials and that they had not been consulted.

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, did not attend Monday's meeting.

"There were some informal discussions about him attending, and he had a prior commitment, so he couldn't make it," said Kristen Hellmer, the council's deputy director for communications. She said the council views Monday's agreement as "a great amplification" of what Bush and Blair discussed at the G-8 summit last year.

Some environmental groups praised the pact.

The agreement "sounds like good politics for all ... sort of like an international climate diplomacy by press release," said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology in Sacramento.

White said, however, that the Schwarzenegger administration and environmentalists still needed to agree this month on how to pass a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions that the governor would sign.

California business leaders guardedly praised the agreement but warned that they don't want to see the state impose a strict limit on emissions.

The Western States Petroleum Assn., representing the state's major oil companies, released a comment underscoring its concerns about AB32, a bill cosponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) that would set limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases given off by industry.

By contrast, said the association's chief operating officer, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, Monday's agreement "recognizes the importance of using market-based mechanisms to address the challenging issues of climate change. It acknowledges the very real risks to our economic future if we don't move with care and deliberation."

In a statement, Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, applauded Schwarzenegger and Blair for their actions, including proposals to examine the true costs of greenhouse gas regulatory programs, adding, "Knowing what climate change policies will do to California's economy should be a prerequisite of any statutory change.... Unfortunately, some state policymakers continue to encourage the imposition of an arbitrary, California-only mandatory emissions cap program."

Blair, the first sitting British prime minister to visit Los Angeles, met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other local leaders Monday at the Getty Villa.

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Times staff writers Marc Lifsher, Carla Hall and Matt Lait contributed to this report.

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