Teaming Up Against Climate Change -- Part One

This is the first in a two-part series on efforts in the United States to address climate change issues. Part one describes programs being implemented by local and state governments and businesses to cut back on carbon dioxide, methane and other air pollutants. Part two, which will appear in an upcoming issue, will cover how many U.S. locales are spurring their economic growth through climate actions that improve the quality of life.


Current scientific evidence suggests that the threat of global climate change and increasing climate instability is real, that human activities have contributed to this threat, and that the climate is already changing in ways that have profound economic and environmental consequences for all of us. However, many economically sound climate response strategies do exist to address the problem. Ideally, these actions would occur at a global, if not national level, in order to achieve the most significant impacts. But an important question is: Is it possible, and effective, to proactively move ahead with innovative solutions at the state and local level to address climate concerns?

As a governor, I am pleased to assert that the answer is unequivocally "Yes." In fact, states, cities and counties are not only setting the pace in reducing climate-altering emissions, they are discovering solutions that provide their communities with extraordinary collateral benefits at the same time, including saving money, improving quality of life and enhancing economic development and competitiveness. I am extremely pleased that my own state of New Hampshire is among the many states, and hundreds of localities, that are today pursuing innovative, cost-effective ideas to bring these many benefits to citizens.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Registries

In mid-1998, a small assemblage of representatives from New Hampshire's business, government and environmental sectors gathered in Concord to brainstorm about actions that could be undertaken at the state level. The group quickly came to a simple conclusion: Encouraging early reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was one of the best things New Hampshire could do to make a positive public statement about climate action.


Wisconsin's registry allows voluntary reductions of almost all pollutants of concern -- including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and mercury -- to be recorded with the state.

The history inspiring this conclusion is as follows: Under the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, emissions reductions achieved by proactive companies prior to 1990 fell under the curse of "no good deed goes unpunished." The emissions reduction requirements imposed by the act - basically percentage cuts - effectively rewarded sources that had been dirtier or slower to clean up, because having done nothing, they started off with more, easier-to-reduce emissions. The threat of similar treatment under potential future federal regulations for GHG emissions has understandably led companies to be cautious about making GHG reductions until they would "count." The longer this delay, however, the more the climate will be compromised and the harder it will be to reach ultimate emissions reduction targets.

Although the small group recognized that New Hampshire cannot predict, let alone control, future federal regulatory policy, they believed the state would be willing to stand beside sources that had voluntarily made early GHG reductions in good faith. They decided that the best way to implement this practice would be through a registry: sources would quantify and submit GHG emissions reduction actions to a state database for safekeeping against some future federal day of reckoning. The group secured bi-partisan sponsors for legislation to this effect in the 1999 legislative session, garnered the support of New Hampshire's business and environmental communities, and the bill sailed through to passage. I was pleased to sign this first-in-the-nation measure in July 1999.

That's not the end of the story regarding this innovative solution, however. Environmental officials in Wisconsin caught wind of what New Hampshire had done and began a similar legislative process. This was not surprising because Wisconsin had earlier completed the nation's first statewide climate action cost study, an assessment which showed that implementing all steps that cost zero or less ("negative" cost actions are those that actually save money, like energy efficiency measures) would create over 8,000 new jobs in the state, save nearly half a billion dollars, raise Wisconsin's gross state product, and reduce over 75 million tons of carbon dioxide. Wisconsin passed legislation creating the Wisconsin Air Pollution Emissions Reduction Registry (1999 Wisconsin Act 195) in May 2000. In doing so, the state astutely extended the benefits of the original registry concept to pollutants beyond greenhouse gases. Wisconsin's registry allows voluntary reductions of almost all pollutants of concern - in cluding particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and mercury - to be recorded with the state.

At the same time, individuals and organizations in California concerned about climate change - led, notably, by a progressive business group called the CEO Coalition - began pursuing the idea of a voluntary registry in that state. After a significant, multi-stakeholder effort, much of it focusing on the efficiency gains that climate actions provide, a bill creating the California Climate Action Registry was passed in September 2000. California again arguably improved upon the registry concept, ensuring that it included third-party audits and whole-corporation reporting. The combination of these two provisions ensures that a source's emissions are viewed from an objective perspective and in a comprehensive manner across all its operations.


Interestingly, reciprocity is only a short step away from emissions reduction credits trading, so the nation's first interstate GHG trading system could conceivably come into existence without any federal involvement or oversight.

These innovative actions by New Hampshire, Wisconsin and California to recognize and register GHG reductions are already seeding an expansion of both the registry concept and its geographical coverage. In New Hampshire, for example, regulations implementing the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Registry are already being modified to include two "tiers." The first tier responds to constructive pressure from New Hampshire businesses to implement the registry despite its initial similarity to the federal Climate Wise (1605(b)) program. A second tier, which reflects the more comprehensive emissions assessment and third-party review of the California Climate Action Registry, is now being developed in concert with other states and with the assistance of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM).

More importantly, several other states are introducing registry legislation and/or initiating public stakeholder processes with that end in mind. Moreover, this multiplicity of state actions is already provoking active discussions - previously relegated to theoreticians and academics - regarding quantification protocols and potential reciprocity arrangements between jurisdictions. Interestingly, reciprocity is only a short step away from emissions reduction credits trading, so the nation's first interstate GHG trading system could conceivably come into existence without any federal involvement or oversight.

Other Innovative Solutions at the State and Local Level

Greenhouse gas reduction registries are only one example of the variety of innovative activities already underway in the states, cities and counties. Other initiatives include Oregon's farsighted new power plant siting law, which imposes aggressive carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions limits and/or offset requirements on new plants, and which launched the Oregon Climate Trust, and the groundbreaking New Jersey Sustainability Greenhouse Gas Action Plan - the first state effort to reduce overall GHG emissions by a specific target amount within a specific timeframe. Both of these projects demonstrate that city and county governments are capable of equal - or perhaps greater - accomplishment in recognizing, developing, and implementing local climate solutions.


The groundbreaking New Jersey Sustainability Greenhouse Gas Action Plan is the first state effort to reduce overall GHG emissions by a specific target amount within a specific timeframe.

Space constraints, however, make it impossible to highlight all of the innovative solutions now underway at the state and local level. Maryland, for example, has just launched a set of energy efficiency and incentive programs that could be the model for a national program. Amidst the challenges encountered by many states in deregulating the electric utility industry, Pennsylvania has found an effective way to encourage the production and sale of renewable, "green" power.

Massachusetts and Connecticut also have provisions on their books regarding CO2 emissions from power plants. Minnesota's utility regulators ascribe a value to CO2 emissions in their decision-making, rather than labeling them "externalities" and shifting the costs they impose on society to other venues. That state is also in the midst of a leading effort to generate electric power from the methane that emanates from its major landfills, and is selling both the electricity and the GHG emissions reduction credits produced.

Texas established a requirement that 2,000 megawatts (about three percent) of new, renewable energy-generating capacity be installed or contracted by 2009, and the state appears likely to meet this target - largely through wind energy - in just three years instead of 10. Vermont's governor has called for explicit action to address climate concerns, and Iowa and other agricultural states are exploring how more carbon can be sequestered - and GHG credits generated - through new "best management practices" like low- and no-till planting.

If these state "soldiers" are marching, the "troops" at the local and county level are positively racing. Under the capable guidance of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), over 75 communities throughout the United States, and hundreds more internationally, have joined its Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign. The U.S. communities alone represent over 28 million people and over 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions.

ICLEI provides committed communities - like Austin, Texas - with education regarding opportunities for emissions reductions, technical assistance in quantifying them, and aid in preparing a plan to implement them. CCP communities carefully analyze their GHG emissions, establish a reduction target, develop and implement a plan to reach that target, monitor progress, and report the results to the public. The measures implemented cover all sectors - energy efficiency and renewable energy, transportation, solid waste and recycling, government operations, etc. - and are tailored by the community to its particular needs and opportunities. They vary from backyard composting to curbside recycling, from ridesharing and bicycle lanes to LED traffic signals, from ultrasonic building humidification to photovoltaic golf course lighting.


Under the capable guidance of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), over 75 communities throughout the United States, and hundreds more internationally, have joined its Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign.

Innovative Solutions from the Corporate Community

Most CCP communities adopt measures to improve the efficiency of transportation systems and government operations, but they also look to their local business community to do its share as well. Together with their corporate citizens, the CCP cities and counties in the United States have implemented over 300 measures that are reducing 7.5 million tons of GHGs, cutting 28,000 tons of traditional air pollutants, and saving $70 million in energy and fuel costs.

Such efforts are rapidly gaining ground because businesses increasingly recognize that civic as well as economic opportunities are associated with climate action. DuPont, for example, announced its plans to reduce corporate GHG emissions by 65 percent from 1990 levels at a September 1999 conference convened by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. BP, formerly British Petroleum) - or "Beyond Petroleum" as it now prefers to be called - has also committed to GHG reductions in excess of the U.S. and European Union reduction targets called for in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. United Technologies Corporation intends to cut its energy and water consumption by 25 percent per dollar of sales by 2007, before the Kyoto Protocol even takes effect.

One of the best examples of corporate environmental leadership is offered by Intel Corporation. Intel illustrates how a world-class company in one of the most competitive, rapidly changing industries in the world can progressively and successfully approach its environmental responsibility. Intel recognizes - and uses - many key aspects of the production-protection interface that easily elude less thoughtful enterprises. Designing environmental improvements into the manufacturing process instead of focusing on end-of-pipe treatment solutions, for example, can not only ensure compliance with regulations, but also often reduces production costs, energy consumption, labor, overhead and other resources. As a result, productivity - and market image - can soar. Intel also understands the importance of considering the environmental impact of the product itself on the environment, not just the impact of its manufacturing and distribution, and of applying the same sound environmental practices at all its operations throughout the world. This understanding has led Intel to a state-of-the-art "Design for the Environment" program, and its hugely successful "Energy Star" microprocessors, which are bringing the company to the point where it arguably has a net positive impact on the environment.


Intel appropriately argues that in order to address climate change and other global environmental issues effectively, governments need to provide greater cooperation and flexibility, focusing more on holding corporations accountable for their environmental results and less on how companies achieve them.

Intel also recognizes that companies do not exist in a vacuum. They must integrate and coordinate with their suppliers, their host communities and the government agencies they work with. In the latter context, Intel appropriately argues that in order to address climate change and other global environmental issues effectively, governments need to provide greater cooperation and flexibility, focusing more on holding corporations accountable for their environmental results and less on how companies achieve them. Ultimately, Intel understands that solving such large, looming environmental concerns as climate change requires the combined skills of all parts of society, and that we are better able to achieve these goals if we act as allies instead of adversaries.




This article originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 6, p. 16.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Edward J. Staples, Ph.D., is the chief scientist and founder of Electronic Sensor Technology. He is the inventor of the zNose;®. For the past 15 years, he has led a team of scientists and engineers in the development of electronic nose technology addressing the need for quality control, environmental monitoring, security, and life science applications. Staples is a member of the American Chemical Society, Air Waste Management Association, International Food Technology Association, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He has served as an associate editor of the IEEE Transaction on Sonics and Ultrasonics. He can be contacted at (805) 480-1994.

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