Michigan is failing to control emissions
By Marjorie Kauth-Karjala
Ann Arbor News
Barry Rabe recently wrote "Statehouse and Greenhouse:
The Emerging Politics of American Climate Change Policy."
The book, published by the Brookings Institution Press,
details the efforts of several states to reduce greenhouse
gases, thought to cause global warming, despite the lack
of federal or international efforts in this area.
Q. Can you briefly explain global warming and its effects?
A. In essence, it's the possibility of significant climate
change stemming from the gradual accumulation of greenhouse
gases, most notably carbon dioxide and methane. Rises
in temperature is one aspect of those changes but other
changes involve sea level, habitat, disease transmission
Q. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was intended to combat the
problem. What is the international agreement and how effective
has it been?
A. It really is not in operation yet. The agreement is
an effort to bring together most of the developed nations
of the world to begin to set different reduction goals
(for greenhouse gases) for different countries. As less-developed
countries, China and India are not a part of it.
In 2001, President George Bush withdrew the U.S. from
it. A substantial number of the remaining participants
would have to ratify the international treaty for it to
go into effect. That has not happened. It can't be evaluated
or assessed because it doesn't exist.
Q. What about the federal government's approach to the
A. The U.S. federal government has really taken few significant
steps to try to reduce greenhouse gases. Most of the efforts
went into Kyoto - which isn't in effect. In Kyoto, the
U.S. goal was to reduce 1990 greenhouse gas emissions
by 7 percent by 2012. The U.S. emissions have increased
by 15 percent.
Q. Your book cites the success of several states in finding
ways to reduce greenhouse gases. What states have been
most successful and what techniques have they used?
A. Fifteen of the states, representing one-third of the
population, have taken some fairly substantial steps to
reduce greenhouse gases. About 25 states have some preliminary
programs. A small subset of the remaining states, like
Michigan, has done little or nothing. Notable states include
the six New England states who are working together, (and)
New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California
New Jersey is a strong example of state action. 1n 1998,
former Republican Gov. Christine Whitman, (until recently
Bush's) director of the federal Environmental Protection
Agency, issued an executive order setting a goal of reducing
the state's greenhouse gases by 3.5 percent by 2005. New
Jersey is on its own trying to implement the Kyoto protocol.
Numerous methods include reducing emission of methane
gas by capping landfills, industrial and utility regulations
and requiring all schools and churches in the state to
look internally at how to reduce the emissions.
Texas has not made a coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse
gases, but reduction has come as a side benefit of another
regulation - an effort to increase production of electricity
from renewable energy sources. The 1999 law was passed
by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Republican
governor, Gov. George Bush, now President Bush.
Q. How does Michigan rank in controlling the emissions?
A. There is almost complete disengagement on this issue.
At one time, there was a legislative bill that failed
that would have prevented any state official from spending
any amount of time or effort on reduction of greenhouse
gases. Michigan is one of a small number of states who
refused to take federal money to study the greenhouse
gases in the state.
Clearly, in the Engler administration there was tremendous
skepticism towards this issue. Also, the states that have
not taken action tend to have very large industries that
contribute to greenhouse gases. Michigan has the automotive
industry. Ohio burns coal. West Virginia mines coal.
Q. What is driving the push to reduce emissions in certain
A. The impetus for reducing greenhouse gases in many
of these states has come from unusual and bipartisan coalitions.
In the Great Lakes, shippers are concerned about lower
lake levels. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, the ski industry
is concerned. If you run a ski equipment shop and your
ski season is cut in half, that's a problem. New Jersey
has a tremendous amount of development along its coastline,
which is being hurt by increases in sea level. It also
has many small islands, which in effect are disappearing
as sea level rises.
Also, many of the policy innovations are coming from
within state agencies. Proponents within the agencies
quietly build a bipartisan coalition for the specific
regulation or technique.
Q. One technique cited in your research is to allow companies
to trade credits so that one company can obtain the right
to emit carbon dioxide from another company. Does this
really reduce emissions, since the company providing the
credits may not have been going to emit the gases anyway?
Also, in New Jersey companies are allowed to trade with
the Netherlands. How does this help air quality in New
A. Trading or buying emission credits can work to reduce
emissions but it's crucial to really understand the source
of greenhouse gases and establish measurement techniques
before a trading policy is put in place.
The trade with the Netherlands is valid because the effect
of greenhouse gases is cumulative and global. It's different
than other forms of pollution that have a direct effect
on a specific area.
Q. How can the success in some states be emulated by
the federal government?
A. There is a long-standing tradition that federal environmental
policy is based on what has been tried in the states,
so the federal government can monitor what the states
are doing. Many of the programs are relatively new. Some
may work and some may not. One advantage of using the
state programs as models is they are more concrete. It's
so hard to get your hands on conceptual goals without