State Attorneys General Press Bush Administration On Climate Change

Attorneys General from 11 states today called on the Bush Administration to reconsider its position on the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Noting that states are filling the regulatory void left by federal inaction, the Attorneys General submitted a five-page letter to the Administration outlining why a national approach to the climate change problem will actually lead to more cost-effective solutions.

In a July 17 letter sent to President George W. Bush, Attorneys General from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont urged the Bush Administration to take a "strong national approach" to the environmental and health risks imposed by climate change that will "better protect the American economy in the long run."

Identifying climate change as the "most pressing environmental challenge of the 21st century," the Attorneys General pointed to a May 2002 report that the United States recently issued as cause for immediate action. The report, U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, confirms the dangers of global climate change and projects that its primary cause, emissions of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of fossil fuels - will increase by 43 percent by 2020.

New York Attorney General Spitzer said: "The question is not if the United States will address climate change, it is when. By acting now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Bush Administration can provide regulatory certainty to the business community, can spur private sector investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and can lay the groundwork to avoid the potentially disastrous environmental, public health and economic impacts of global warming."

While the Bush Administration is now acknowledging the negative impacts of global climate change, the Attorneys General expressed concern that it has yet to propose a credible plan addressing the findings and conclusions outlined in its recent report. Rather than proposing a solution, the recent report focuses on the need to accommodate coming changes, suggesting, for example, that increased use of air conditioning should be used to deal with heat-related health impacts. The Attorneys General likened the Administration's approach to former Interior Secretary Hodel's infamous suggestion that the government contend with the hole in the ozone layer by encouraging Americans to make better use of sunglasses, suntan lotion and broad brimmed hats.

According to the State Department's report, global climate change, primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, can result in:

  • Increased Temperatures. Average temperatures have already increased by one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, and are likely to increase by five to nine degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. An increase will dramatically change climates in every state and destroy some fragile ecosystems.

  • Rising Sea Levels. Sea levels have already risen four to eight inches over the last century and are likely to rise another 4 to 35 inches during the next century. Rising sea levels will cause more coastal flooding, and will obliterate vital estuaries, coastal wetlands and barrier islands. The result will be increased storms and storm damage in some areas and dwindling water supply in others, such as California and other parts of the West.

  • Increased Health Risks. The effects of climate change can result in illnesses and deaths associated with temperature extremes, storms and other heavy precipitation events, air pollution, water contamination, and diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and rodents. A just published study in the journal, Science, warns of increased risks from insect-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

"Not only have we underestimated the rate at which climate would change, recent studies indicate that we have underestimated the rate at which organisms, including insects and others that can transport disease, are reacting to these changes," said Dr. Paul R. Epstein, Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "The question we need to be asking is not whether we can afford to do something about climate change, but whether we can afford not to."

In response to the lack of initiative at the federal level, several states are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the local level. In Massachusetts, state regulations were adopted last year requiring carbon dioxide reductions by power plants and in New Hampshire "cap and trade" legislation was recently enacted.

The legislature in California just passed a bill that will lead to the "maximum feasible" reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Also, a "carbon cap" is being considered by elected leaders in New York.

The preferred and, more importantly, most efficient route is regulatory action at the national level. "We agree that the global nature of the climate change problem would be most efficiently addressed by comprehensive regulatory action at the national level," the letter states. "We strongly believe that prompt implementation of a market-based approach that caps greenhouse gas emissions would promote significant benefits for public health, welfare and the environment."

Today's letter also noted that states are also beginning to review their litigation options.

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