US States Sign Global Warming Pact

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Robb Long / AP

Wind turbines owned by Carleton College

Washington is running out of excuses to act on climate change. That's the message from the Midwest, where governors from nine states in the region, along with the Canadian province of Manitoba, on Wednesday signed a landmark deal to reduce energy consumption, promote renewable power and cut carbon emissions. Hammered out at a regional summit in Milwaukee, the pact calls for a 2% reduction in energy use by 2015, with a 2% cut every year after that; an increase in the availability of a cleaner ethanol-gasoline mix known as E85; and 10% of the region's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2015, with an increase to 30% by 2030. The plan also calls for reductions in greenhouse gases — though no firm targets — and the establishment of a regional cap-and-trade system.

The Midwest isn't the first part of the U.S. to set up such a regional climate deal — the Northeast, the Southwest and the West have already signed similar deals. But the Midwest runs red politically and is carbon-heavy on energy. With 22% of the U.S. population, the Midwest produces 27% of its greenhouse gas emissions, thanks largely to the fact that many of the states rely heavily for power on coal, the most carbon-rich fuel (71% of the region's electricity comes from coal, compared to 49% nationwide). The deal isn't perfect. Too much emphasis is placed on biofuels, especially the corn-based ethanol that has made some farmers in the region rich, but which is of questionable environmental value at best. But the very fact that governors of red states like Kansas would agree to sign a pact that has anything to do with climate change raises hope that the issue can transcend political differences.

Which brings us to Washington. Despite increasing evidence that Americans are worried about climate change — Congress continues to drag its feet on a nationwide carbon reduction plan similar to ones already enacted by the faster-moving states. Hopefully, that will begin to change. The long delayed McCain-Lieberman bill — which would cap carbon emissions at 15% below 2005 levels by 2020 and set up a greenhouse-gas trading system — may finally be brought to a vote before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as early as next month, though there's no sign of when it would reach a final vote. McCain-Lieberman is at best a modest start — the Union of Concerned Scientists says that the U.S. has to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 2000 levels to avoid dangerous climate change — but it's a start Congress keeps tripping over.

That leaves the states to keep pushing Washington. On the same day that the Midwest deal was signed, the green group Environmental Defense announced that it would begin airing a 30-sec. ad featuring three Western governors — Republican Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Huntsman Jr. of California and Utah, and Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana — calling on Congress to do something. The message is clear: America's state and local governments have done as much as they can on climate change. "In state after state, we're taking action," the governors say in the $3 million ads, which began airing on Nov. 19. "Now it's time for Congress to act by capping greenhouse gas pollution." The clock is running out.