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Florida’s Governor To Limit Emissions

By Steven Mufson (The Washington Post) - July 12, 2007

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said yesterday that he is set to sign executive orders tomorrow matching California’s standards for greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, adding the nation’s fourth-most-populous state to the roster of those embracing aggressive new limits on vehicle emissions.

Tearing a page from the playbook of a fellow Republican, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Crist said he would also set a goal of slashing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050, in line with targets that many scientists say are necessary to contain global warming.

Crist has been circulating drafts of his proposals, which would also raise energy conservation standards for new buildings and require utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

“We have some ambitious goals we’re shooting for, but I think Florida deserves that and so does the country,” Crist said in a telephone interview. Asked whether he was worried about the cost of meeting those targets, he cited the effect on the state’s tourism industry, saying “there’s an economic cost to not doing these things.”

“It is a very impressive package of actions from a ‘red’ state and from a Republican governor taking a leadership position on global warming,” said David Doniger, policy director for climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

With GOP governors from a pair of the nation’s most populated states pushing for laws to limit climate change and threatening to outflank both the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Bush administration, pressure is rising on automakers to introduce more fuel-efficient models and on Congress to offer its own legislation to combat global warming.

Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) introduced a more ambitious version of his earlier climate-change proposal and assembled support from Republican Sens. Arlen Specter (Penn.), Ted Stevens (Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) as well as two labor leaders and the chief executives of several major utilities.

Bingaman’s plan is a cap-and-trade proposal, which like other plans would allow companies to buy and sell the right to emit global warming gases. Like his prior proposal, this one has a “safety valve” that would limit the price companies would pay for those emission permits.

But in a sign that the centrist position on climate change is moving, there were changes. Whereas Bingaman’s earlier proposal effectively set a ceiling price of $7 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions, this one set a ceiling price of $12 starting in 2012 and would rise at an annual rate of 5 percent, after adjusting for inflation.

The Bingaman-Specter proposal would also auction emission allowances and put the revenue in an off-budget fund that would go to aiding new technologies, helping coastal areas and assisting low-income households. It would provide extra incentives for big industries and power companies to capture the carbon they produce and store it underground. And it sets trade penalties for developing nations that fail to adopt limits on greenhouse gases.

Bingaman called the new proposal a “balanced approach” that could attract enough support to pass. Murkowski said she viewed the bill “as an insurance policy” against global warming and said, “If Congress is ever going to pass legislation to regulate carbon, the final bill is going to look a lot like the bill introduced this morning.”

Jeff Sterba, chief executive of the utility PNM Resources, said the bill would create the certainty about carbon prices needed to plan power projects and provide some protection to the economy in the near term while those projects were being built.

Some environmental groups complained that Bingaman failed to go far enough. They said his 2050 target of a 60 percent reduction in annual emissions was too low.

“A good sign of the legislation’s limits is the fact that it’s backed by some of our country’s biggest coal companies and polluters,” Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “This legislation is flawed in many ways.” He said the bill would actually allow global warming emissions to increase at first and that the bill’s caps would not bring emissions back to 2006 levels until 2020.

“This is a clear attempt to find the political middle ground on the climate debate rather than a utopian solution,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. But he added that “the bill appears to fall well short of what science says is needed.” He said the proposal was “laden with goodies for coal.”

Some economists defended the Bingaman-Specter approach. “You don’t want to go broke implementing climate policies,” said William A. Pizer, senior fellow at Resources for the Future. Although other climate change bills set good targets, the Bingaman-Specter bill “is the one that recognizes the economic reality of not needing to jerk everything around too quickly,” he said.