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US governors on climate change: "We have no time to lose."

Date: 20 April 2008

The governors of four states and representatives from 14 more gathered at the Yale University campus late last week for the 2008 Conference of Governors on Climate Change, signing a statement intended to highlight the risk of climate change. They were joined by officials from Canadian provinces and the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and recent Nobel Laureate) R. K. Pachauri. Many of the states represented at the conference have already initiated their own efforts or joined regional pacts, but their joint statement emphasized the need for federal coordination and support. In recognition of the recent decision by the current administration to forgo emissions cuts for nearly 20 years, the statement went straight past Bush and addressed the presidential candidates, calling for them to commit to climate initiatives during the first 100 days of their administration, stating, "We have no time to lose."

The 18 states involved account for over half of US emissions, or the equivalent of a large European nation. The list is heavily biased towards the two coasts, with the Northeast heavily represented and Governor Schwarzenegger of California in attendance. Others signing on, however, included Florida, the midwestern states Kansas and Illinois, and western states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Notably absent were states with economies focused on extraction, such as Texas and West Virginia. Michigan, however, chose to sign the pact despite its history of resisting conservation measures in deference to the auto industry which employs so many in the state.

The conference was inspired in part by the 100th anniversary of a similar meeting, called by Theodore Roosevelt, which helped launch the effort to conserve public lands. That historic precedent brought the current situation into sharp contrast, as the states have been compelled to play a significant role in the US climate effort in part due to the absence of federal leadership. Even with a robust national effort, however, states would play a significant role—they are major employers, and thus consumers of energy, and most play a role in structuring the energy market for their residents.

The statement signed at the conference called for federal involvement to strengthen existing state climate efforts, declaring, "we [the states] will continue these efforts, but we cannot do it alone." One of the three guiding principles of the agreement was that a federal-state partnership is, "the only way we can get the job done." The second principle noted that existing state programs, "are real and they work," and their expansion into national efforts should be supported. Finally, the states declared that mandatory carbon limits, both at the state and national levels, are essential for future progress.

But talks by governors John Corzine, Kathleen Sibelius, and Arnold Schwarzenegger made it clear that the governors are not simply frustrated by the lack of national action to limit carbon output. Repeated references were made to federal interference in states' efforts to limit emissions, especially the EPA's decision to block California's attempts to limit tailpipe emissions. Based on statements by the Premiers of Manitoba and Quebec, a number of Canadian provinces are ready go along with emissions limits as soon as the California standard is enforced. The frustration of the political figures in attendance was palpable.

The talks given by the officials present appeared to suggest that the governors are laying the groundwork for the arrival of a new administration early next year. As all three remaining major-party candidates have expressed interest in creating mandatory carbon emissions caps, action seems likely. The states appear to be trying to both build public support for whatever action occurs, and to make sure that their efforts serve as models for national action. We'll take a detailed look at the salesmanship involved in a separate article, but one thing was apparent at the conference: none of the attendees saw the need to reiterate the IPCC's conclusion that climate change is a reality.

Energy industry says more plant construction needed

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY

Environmentalists argue more energy efficiency could greatly reduce the need fora huge new wave of power plants and transmission lines.

In two studies out Monday, the power industry gives its terse response: Don't count on it.

Increased efficiency can offset a substantial but relatively small portion of the increase in generating capacity needed to meet rising electricity demand, the studies say.

Even with widespread purchases of energy-saving appliances and better-insulated homes, the USA will still need to build at least 151 gigawatts of new generation — enough to power 75 million homes — by 2030, says one study by The Brattle Group for Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the industry's trade group.

The projects, aimed at meeting new demand and replacing aging plants, would cost $457 billion. The biggest wave of utility construction in a generation would also require $900 billion for lines to transport the power.

"No matter how you slice it, we need to build a lot of new generation and transmission," says EEI executive director Diane Munns.

Some say the studies' energy-saving forecast is conservative. "They're low-balling the opportunity several-fold," says Steve Nadel, head of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Power demand is expected to surge 30% by 2030 as the U.S. population grows and more consumers buy energy-thirsty flat-screen TVs and other electronics, the Energy Information Administration says. That projection accounts for current utility programs that give consumers rebates for purchases of efficient appliances. It also figures in a recently passed federal law that toughens appliance standards and phases out the incandescent light bulb by 2020.

Additional utility efficiency efforts could cut power demand in 2030 by 7% to 11% compared with what would be achieved by current measures, says a second study by Brattle and the Electric Power Research Institute, which is partly funded by utilities.

Under that estimate, new generation could be sliced by up to a third to 151 gigawatts, though a more realistic 17% drop would still require building 188 gigawatts of capacity, enough to light 94 million homes, the EEI report says.

Brattle's Ahmad Faruqui concedes the study doesn't account for expected U.S. legislation to cut utilities' global-warming emissions or reduced power usage that would result from soaring rates. Those forces could double the electricity savings, he says. Even then, significant new generation would still be needed.

Nadel, by contrast, says the decrease in power demand could be much higher. He cites plans by Maryland for ambitious efficiency programs designed to freeze demand at today's levels by 2030, virtually eliminating the need to build new plants. Other states could follow suit, he says.

Yet Munn says utilities can't count on bold initiatives that may not develop. "We could find ourselves without" adequate supply, she says.

By John Timmer | Published: April 20, 2008 - 08:00PM CT
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