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Western Governors Take Aim at Global Warming

Bipartisan group passes a resolution calling on states and cities to reduce human-caused emissions. But it fails to detail specific action.

June 12, 2006|Janet Wilson and Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writers

SEDONA, Ariz. — A bipartisan group of western governors on Sunday formally acknowledged that greenhouse gases are on the rise and said their states need to take action to reduce global warming while meeting growing energy demand.

The Western Governors' Assn. unanimously passed a resolution calling on states and cities to reduce human-caused greenhouse gases, but it contained no specifics on what action should be taken.

Though the resolution was a major step, especially for governors of states with power plants or major coal and oil reserves, its language was carefully nuanced.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had urged his fellow governors just before the vote to take an even stronger stand.

"On global warming, we still come up short," said Schwarzenegger. "We've made progress in everyone agreeing it's a serious problem. But unless we set specific goals and targets with specific ways to measure our performance, a resolution won't mean very much.... My friends, it's long past the time when it's OK to just talk about these problems."

The resolution said that 11 national academies of science from major nations have agreed that climate change is occurring and is "influenced by human activity." It also said that the governors support taking steps to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Idaho Gov. James Risch, a Republican who was appointed a week ago after his predecessor, Dirk Kempthorne, became secretary of the Interior, said he did not believe he had voted for a resolution that declared that climate change was human-caused. "I personally think there is science on both sides," he said. "I'm not strongly convinced either way."

But another Republican governor, South Dakota's Mike Rounds, said that "one of the things we agree on is there are a number of different causes that we recognize, and the scientists recognize, are the cause of global warming."

Asked if that included human causes, Rounds said: "Absolutely."

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, said governors "need to be thinking about what we can do at the state and regional level to deal with global warming." Asked if they were referring to human-caused warming, Napolitano said, "Yes, I think you can read that in the resolution."

Schwarzenegger said it was important for the western states to send a clear message that they were concerned. "This is not us versus the federal government as much as we say, 'Look, we have it happening in our states, and we can make an impact.... And if we join forces we can make more of an impact.' Now we spread the news."

The Bush administration declined to comment on the resolution because officials had not seen it, said Alex Conant, a White House spokesman.

Others at the conference said the governors' action was significant because it was the first time they had formally voted on global warming and were saying that action was needed.

Doug Larson, head of the Western Interstate Energy Board, a sister group to the governors association that works on energy needs, said the resolution reflected "an evolution in thinking by the western governors," with Schwarzenegger pushing for the strongest response.

"Some of the others may not personally be sure of the science, but they recognize that for economic reasons, they need to do something," Larson said.

Larson and others said utilities seeking to build dozens more coal-fired power plants across the West are encountering political opposition and engaging in court battles because the plants are a major source of the carbon dioxide emissions that numerous studies have linked to global warming.

Larson said eastern states have taken the lead on research and testing of new "clean" coal technology, and that the western governors were feeling pressure to stay competitive.

The governors passed a companion resolution calling for a range of possible strategies for environmentally sound energy production, including rebates to customers for efficient appliances, upgrades to building codes and construction of multibillion-dollar coal plants that would convert harmful carbon dioxide emissions to gas rather than spewing them into the air.

Also in attendance at the two-day conference were dozens of corporate sponsors of the governors association whose futures may depend on what action is taken on global warming. They included drug companies interested in how governors are preparing for avian flu as well as oil and coal producers involved in the global warming debate.

Napolitano denied there was any conflict of interest in accepting donations from such private interests.

"We have a variety of sponsors," she said. "We also have conservation sponsors, environmental sponsors. There are a broad variety of folks that contribute.... But do they lead the discussion? No. Do they direct the decision-making? Absolutely not."

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