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Stepping Up on Climate Change

By New York Times (The New York Times) - July 1, 2007

If only the Bush administration and Congress would follow the example set by some of the country’s more imaginative and innovative state governments, we might finally begin to get a handle on global warming.

New Jersey is the latest state to join the parade. Alarmed, perhaps, by predictions that much of the New Jersey shore could disappear if temperatures and oceans continued to rise, the Legislature, backed by Gov. Jon Corzine, last month set perhaps the most aggressive limits of any state on greenhouse-gas emissions.

By 2020, emissions must drop 13 percent, to about 1990 levels, and by 2050, they will have to be capped at 80 percent below 2006 levels. Even California, a leader in the climate change battle, has imposed restrictions only through 2020. New Jersey’s legislation covers not just motor vehicle emissions, but those from power plants and refineries.

Yes, we know the arguments by business and other critics that one state alone cannot do much to reduce global warming, that New Jersey’s measure is largely symbolic. But symbolism is important, especially when it highlights Washington’s passive response to the problem. It is fair to say that the growing sense of urgency about climate change in statehouses across the country was one of several factors that persuaded the United States Senate to pass the first major improvement in automobile fuel- efficiency standards since 1975.

For New Jersey, the hard work of implementation lies ahead. The Department of Environmental Protection must join with other state agencies to draw up a plan for meeting the 2020 targets; within the next three years, they must provide a strategy for meeting the 2050 targets.

In addition, the Corzine administration must devise regulations to carry out the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a work in progress involving nine other Northeastern states aimed at reducing regional power plant emissions 10 percent by 2019. The initiative would also establish a cap-and-trade system in which polluters that cut their emissions below standards can sell pollution rights to companies that do not.

Under the new legislation, New Jersey will monitor greenhouse gases not only from in-state power plants but from out-of-state plants that sell electricity in New Jersey. Trenton must strongly enforce a provision that requires even out-of-state sellers to meet pollution standards.

By passing the legislation by wide margins, Trenton roundly rejected the head-in-the sand argument of some business groups that the state should not take a leadership role on global warming because it might drive industry and high-paying jobs to other states. That is a potential risk. But it is also another reason why Washington should establish a national program. Until it does, states like New Jersey have no alternative but to lead the way.