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Six Western States And Two Provinces Agree To Cut Greenhouse Gases

Six western states and two Canadian provinces made a firm commitment Wednesday to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the west. What began as a West Coast initiative has grown to include states as far away as the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. But as Rob Manning reports, participants are hoping the agreement will expand even further—and lead to economic growth in Oregon.

Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, and New Mexico agreed last February to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come. Under that agreement, they had until this month to set a goal. On a conference call with reporters, Washington ecology official Janice Adair announced the number.

Janice Adair: “So, we have spent these last six months developing our regional greenhouse gas reduction goal, and we have agreed that the goal will be 15% below 2005 levels by 2020.”

If you're thinking, "Wait, didn't Oregon already have a goal?" — you're right. So did Washington, and California, and the five other states and provinces involved in the Western Climate Initiative.

Michael Gibbs, with the California Environmental Protection Agency, says having everyone sign-on has extra significance.

Michael Gibbs: “What we're trying to do is to put into place a larger collective effort that will move our federal governments and other governments around the world to collaborate and take the steps necessary to solve this problem sooner, rather than later, because no one state, no one province, can solve it alone.”

How exactly the states will make the reductions depends on the state. Details will be worked out by next August. A few states already have ideas, though. Utah and Arizona officials mentioned sequestering carbon emitted by coal burning power plants, for instance. And Oregon's leaders want to set cap emissions, and then allow companies to pay for permits if they're over the cap.

The governor's natural resource advisor, Dave Van't Hof, says such a system would mean environmental and economic benefits.

Dave Van't Hof: “At least the initial modeling indicated that it would mean rate savings for consumers due to energy efficiencies that would be driven into the system at greater rates than if the system hadn't been put into place.”

In fact, Oregon's governor, Ted Kulongoski says he sees economic benefits well beyond Oregon for such a carbon credit market. He says conversations this week with Chinese officials boosted his confidence in making Oregon a global trade center for carbon credits.

Ted Kulongoski: “My ideal situation would be to establish an exchange here in Portland, Oregon, where internationally, from China, from Asia, on the western half of the United States, that they would trade within the cap emissions, so that other industries that are not as advanced technology-wise, or don't have the capital, they can continue in business.”

Conservation groups are largely supportive of the new goals, as long as the new regional goal doesn't replace what are, in some cases, higher state goals. However, Christopher Bush, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, is cautious about Kulongoski's idea of a global market place for carbon.

Christopher Bush: “We would have to be confident that the international linkages are there, and that the environmental integrity is there, but in principle, we really need a worldwide cap on carbon emissions.”

Setting goals, and actually reaching them are certainly two different things.

A recent study from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council emphasized that emissions have grown substantially since 1990. Oregon lawmakers mandated that 2020 greenhouse gas emissions come in 10% below 1990's levels.

In the meantime, the regional model could spread beyond the six states and two provinces. Four more US states — and three more Canadian provinces and a Mexican state — are all official “observers.” That means the ideas the Western Climate Initiative comes up with next summer will have an audience.

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