States have set
the pace over the past decade as the nation's leaders in implementing
climate change policy, but much of their work could be on the line this
Nineteen gubernatorial races involve states that participate in the
regional climate initiatives that have emerged as important alternatives
to federal policy, given Congress's failure to pass a cap-and-trade
system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Nowhere is the battle more intense than in California, where Democratic
Attorney General Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman are at odds over
the state's landmark law to reduce heat-trapping emissions to 1990
levels by 2020.
Whitman favors a one-year suspension of the law, known as AB 32, to give
the state's economy time to recover from the recession. The former eBay
chief executive said last fall that the climate law, which Republican
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2006, "may have been
well-intentioned, but it is wrong for these challenging times."
Brown's campaign has seized on Whitman's rightward shift during her
heated GOP primary, which waded into doubts on the science of global
warming. And his campaign said Whitman is waffling when it comes to her
views on a separate ballot initiative - funded by out-of-state oil
company interests - that would halt AB 32 unless there's a dramatic
"We're opposed to climate change, and Meg Whitman isn't sure it's real,"
said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford. "That's the critical
distinction on that issue."
Given California's long-standing leadership role on environmental
issues, the gubernatorial and ballot initiative races could have major
repercussions beyond the state's borders.
"A loss would be devastating in so many ways," said state Sen. Fran
Pavley, a Los Angeles-area Democrat and a lead co-author of the climate
law. The defeat of AB 32 would prompt businesses to pass on spending
billions of dollars for a variety of low-carbon technologies, she said.
Industry interests said the California election is an important signal
of the prospects for climate policies that are not compatible with the
"It's a sign of the times," said Jack Gerard, president of the American
Petroleum Institute. "Who would have predicted two or three years ago
that the repeal of AB 32 would have even been an issue in California?
But today, it is."
Sources tracking state climate policies insist the candidates' positions
may not be reflective of the work they would do if elected.
For example, both Schwarzenegger and Florida independent Gov. Charlie
Crist surprised outsiders when they stepped into their roles as leaders
in the climate debate.
"Neither, when coming
into office, was planning to do this," said Judi Greenwald at the Pew
Center on Global Climate Change. "We're hoping there are other folks who
are surprising and come to the issue when they come to office."
But the rhetoric from several candidates in key states for climate pacts shows little wiggle room.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who steps down in January after two
terms, signed up for the Western Climate Initiative - a regional plan to
cap carbon dioxide emissions in 2012. But whoever replaces the Democrat
might be inclined to drop out.
Arizona, Nevada and Utah already have opted out of the pact, and New
Mexico could be a loser if it doesn't follow, said Ryan Cangiolosi,
campaign manager for GOP nominee Susana Martinez. "This threatens the
economic competitiveness of our state even further relative to our
neighbors' and is simply unsustainable," he said.
Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is also hedging her bets on a
state-focused climate law. "She does not support state-level emission
caps because she does not believe a checkerboard approach solves the
problem or creates a level playing field for states," said spokesman
In Massachusetts, former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney pulled out of what
was then still a budding regional climate pact for power plants in the
Northeast. His replacement, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, brought the
Bay State back to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Patrick, who is seeking a second term, is reminding voters of his
decision and is touting endorsements from local chapters of the Sierra
Club and the League of Conservation Voters.
By contrast, Republican front-runner Charlie Baker "has great concerns"
with the results of the regional compact, including some estimates that
the program increased electricity costs by $50 million for consumers and
businesses in 2009, according to Amy Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Baker.
"Charlie is committed to undertaking a review of all of the laws and
regulations in Massachusetts that make us less competitive and thwart
job creation, and RGGI is certainly something that needs to be looked
at," she said.
In Maine, Paul LePage won the GOP gubernatorial nomination at the same
time the state party changed its platform. He dubbed global warming
science a "scam."
The Democratic nominee, state Sen. Libby Mitchell, is supportive of the
Northeastern compact and the funding it provides for home
weatherization, an important issue in a state reliant on heating oil for
old homes, said spokesman David Loughran. On her website, Mitchell also
pledges she will make "reducing our dependence on foreign oil the
centerpiece of my economic strategy."