We could always follow the lead of many other states and adopt our own climate plan.
Already, ten states in the Northeast have put their electric utilities under a cap-and-trade system known as RGGI. Eleven Western states and Canadian provinces are now laying the groundwork for their own cap-and-trade system, known as the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which would begin in 2012 and could well expand further. Right now, there’s a lot of cooperation between RGGI and WCI, [Terry Tamminen, who advised California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on that state’s climate policy] said—so that in the future they could be linked up, possibly with Europe’s system, and possible with offset projects in, say, China and India. (Relatedly, Schwarzenegger is putting together an “R-20” for various subnational governments, modeled after the G-20, to get together and coordinate these sorts of regional efforts.)
Okay, but what sorts of cuts are we really talking about? The WCI, after all, includes some hefty states and provinces—California, Ontario, Washington, Arizona—but it doesn’t include some of the heaviest polluters, like Alberta and Texas. Unfortunately, no one’s done a full tally of the total impact on U.S. emissions—it’s still too early for that. But, Tamminen notes, when you add state efforts to the hundreds of cities that have pledged to reduce their emissions, suddenly we’re talking about a big swath of the United States. “Eighty percent of the country’s emissions come from cities and industrial areas that are often located near those cities.”
And, Tamminen adds, other states will have plenty of incentive to buy into these climate plans. For instance, some of the RGGI states have used revenue from selling carbon permits to help fill in their budget shortfalls ($100 million in New York’s case)—an option that may increasingly look attractive to many governors around the country. It’s a move that has a certain logic too it. “When you think about a coal-fired power plant,” says Tamminen, “it’s not just the greenhouse gases—there are all sorts of other pollutants causing asthma and so forth, and that ends up costing states in medical bills. So it’s totally appropriate for states to offset those costs by forcing polluters to internalize them, through a price on carbon.”
A hundred million bucks is still a relatively small amount in the context of our budget and its currently projected shortfall, but it’s still a hundred million bucks, and I’d bet Texas has a lot more revenue potential there than New York does. Yeah, I know, this is about as likely to happen as a tax on concealed weapons. But just take a minute and imagine what it might be like if we provided incentives to not pollute, instead of the other way around.