Calif. Diverges from U.S. with Greenhouse Gas Cuts

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California's Democrat-controlled legislature have a plan to curb the state's greenhouse-gas emissions. Supporters see the plan as a major breakthrough for climate change policy in the United States.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. Officials here in California have decided to make this state the first in the nation to require reductions in emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The deal struck by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled legislature is a big departure from the approach to climate change in Washington, DC, as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

President Bush and the Republican-led Congress have rejected mandatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They say they would hurt the economy. But politicians in California say requiring cuts in global warming emissions will help the state's economy. And they hope the federal government follows their lead.

Fabian Nunez is the speaker of the California Assembly.

Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (California Assembly Speaker): California has had a history of taking leadership on environmental issues, but this, we believe, is going to have not just national but worldwide implications, with the goal of convincing the federal government that this country, who is the number one emitter of greenhouse gases, has to play a leadership role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the globe.

SHOGREN: California's plan will require the state to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That means industry is going to have to find ways to reduce energy use, because most greenhouse gases come from burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels. One reason the state acted is that many experts believe climate change puts California's economy at risk. For instance, the melting snow pack in the Sierras could reduce the water supply for cities and agriculture. Many economists say California's climate plan will benefit the economy because it will force companies to make cars, appliances and even buildings that use less fuel.

Michael Hademan(ph) is an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mr. MICHAEL HADEMAN (University of California, Berkeley): These are measures which actually put money in people's pockets and grow the economy.

SHOGREN: Venture capitalists in California like John Doerr say the plan will stimulate new business in the state.

Mr. JOHN DOERR (Venture Capitalist): Entrepreneurs in California see significant opportunities to both do good and do well by innovating, by competing for new green technologies. All they want is for someone to set the rules and they'll go out and compete like crazy.

SHOGREN: To spur that competition, the state will set up what's called a cap-and-trade system. It will set caps on how much greenhouse gases certain industries can emit and those caps will get tighter over time. Companies that reduce emissions faster can sell their right to pollute to other companies. Environmentalists say California's action is significant because the state is so large and because other states and the federal government often follow California's lead on environmental policy.

William Riley headed the Environmental Protection Agency under the first President Bush.

Mr. WILLIAM RILEY (Former EPA Administrator): It's a very big deal when such an important state makes a move of this magnitude. It says global warming is here, we're contributing to it, we've got to do our share to address it. And California's share turns out to be fairly large.

SHOGREN: If California were a country, it would have the world's eighth biggest economy and it would be the twelfth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Fabian Nunez, the leader of California's Assembly, says California's climate plan is the most important legislation he's ever sponsored.

Mr. NUNEZ: This bill is going to have an impact, and not just today in the present, but this will have an impact for the lives of my children and their children's children. Because at the end of the day, you know, it's about what kind of planet we're going to leave behind for our children.

SHOGREN: The plan is expected to be approved by the legislature later today and signed by the governor soon.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.

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