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Lawmakers Urged to Preserve State Efforts on Climate Change

With some states adopting aggressive strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, state officials are urging Congress to resist an anticipated industry push to pre-empt their efforts in any federal climate change legislation.

The issue surfaced in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee climate hearing today, when New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D), a former Senator, urged lawmakers to preserve states’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Federal legislation should facilitate the role of the states as policy innovators by explicitly preventing federal pre-emption of state programs that go beyond federal minimum requirements, as well as preventing pre-emption of state programs outside the scope of federal initiatives,” Corzine testified.

Corzine’s remarks echoed those of the National Governors Association, which met in Washington, D.C., this week. The group passed a climate-change resolution last year calling on the federal government “to recognize state-based activities, support their further development, and not preempt or dilute their effectiveness.”

At least 29 states have taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of federal plans, according to Senate Environment Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), whose state last year enacted a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That effort, touted as a possible national model, is the most aggressive state effort to address climate change.

States also have created regional alliances to facilitate carbon dioxide-emissions trading. Earlier this week, the Governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington agreed to develop regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, blaming climate change for protracted droughts in their states.

The effort is based on a groundbreaking agreement brokered last year by Northeastern states called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Seven states currently are participating in the plan, and additional states are expected to join soon.

Business groups prefer federal standards because they would be easier to comply with than multiple state rules. According to published accounts, officials with the National Association of Manufacturers announced last month that federal pre-emption of the burgeoning state programs will be among the group’s principles that must be addressed in a national climate-change regime. A NAM official did not respond to requests for comment.

And the Edison Electric Institute, which represents shareholder-owned electric utilities, said in a climate change paper last month it supports federal action or legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that “provides certainty and a consistent national policy.”

The groups will likely find allies in Republican Senators like James Inhofe (Okla.) — who derides climate change as a hoax and has vowed to filibuster climate legislation. Inhofe at today’s hearing said state alliances such as RGGI represent “empty promises” that cause economic harm.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) also expressed skepticism of the state efforts, which he said would hurt the economy while doing little to reduce overall global greenhouse gas levels.

But states who are moving on climate change likely will be aided by Democrats, who generally are more reluctant to pre-empt state regulatory efforts in federal legislation. For instance, California Sens. Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (D) last year urged President Bush to remove language in a federal fuel economy rule that would have preempted California efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

California’s efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles in the state are currently the subject of a lawsuit by the auto industry, which says the state’s regulations are pre-empted by federal law.

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