Seven more state attorneys general jumped into the climate debate this week, this time arguing that any climate legislation must preserve the progress that states have made so far and not restrict their ability to keep pushing the envelope.
Individual states have led the way on auto standards, emissions targets, renewable energy portfolio standards, land use measures, reporting requirements, and building and appliance efficiency standards, among other energy and environmental rules. They launched the first carbon trading program in the country with the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
These programs are working, the chief lawyers for California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Delaware write in a letter to members of Congress.
“There is simply no substantive basis to terminate such positive impacts and abandon RGGI and other similar initiatives at least until a national system is established and achieving equivalent or better results,” they say.
"Moreover, it is unknown whether measures that may be adopted through federal legislation now will fully resolve the problem and thereby eliminate the need for further measures in the future."
In their letter, the attorneys general urge Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to write their compromise climate bill, expected to be introduced later this month, “in a way that capitalizes on, and does not abandon, the significant progress that has been achieved through numerous state efforts to address global warming pollution.”
That includes preserving state greenhouse gas regulations and cap-and-trade programs that are already in place.
Six of the seven attorneys general are from RGGI states, which have so far collected $582.3 million from auctioning off pollution allowances — proceeds that they are now investing in energy efficiency programs and in developing renewable energy technologies. Some of those states are counting on future auctions to implement their plans.
The seventh attorney general is California‘s Jerry Brown, whose state plans to launch its own emissions trading system in 2012.
In the letter, the attorneys general suggest that a temporary moratorium with clear transitions between the state and federal programs would be workable, but the key is that it not eliminate the states’ progress so far.
"Keeping state initiatives viable — and, at most, imposing a temporary moratorium for a fixed period of time — would provide a valuable incentive to ensure rigorous implementation and enforcement of the federal program," they write.
The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and city air pollution control agencies, also wrote to the senators, expressing support for economywide greenhouse gas reduction efforts but similarly urging them to preserve the ability of state and local governments to enact more stringent greenhouse gas regulations.
Kerry, Graham and the EPA have been hearing from a lot of attorneys general when it comes to climate change.
It was a group of attorneys general led by Massachusetts’ who pushed their lawsuit over emissions regulations all the way to the Supreme Court in 2007. That case, Massachusetts v. EPA, led to the EPA’s endangerment finding late last year that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare, which laid the foundation for future federal greenhouse gas regulations. The same attorneys general pressed Washington — unsuccessfully during the Bush administration and successfully during the Obama administration — to follow through on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
On the opposite side, Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed suit in February challenging the EPA’s endangerment finding in an effort to prevent any federal greenhouse gas regulation from moving forward. Texas, Alabama, and dozen other states joined that attack.
The latest letter also addresses that effort, however the seven attorneys general instead urge Congress to preserve the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The House-passed climate and energy bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), would preempt the EPA, and Kerry and Graham have suggested that their bill likely would as well.
Preempting the EPA and progressive states could gain some votes from Democrats wary of EPA regulation, but it could turn off supporters as well.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) mentioned EPA and state preemption as a potential deal breaker last month:
"There are a lot of states that are out on this already, and a lot depends on my perception of whether we’re undercutting their efforts and how rigorous our process is," he said.