Attacking climate policy from the bottom up

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addresses delegates to the climate summit he's co-hosting.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addresses delegates to the climate summit he's co-hosting.
Peter Grigsby/Office of the Governor

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A global climate summit sponsored by California and other U-S states continues today in Los Angeles. KPCC's Molly Peterson says the meeting spotlights the role regional policymakers play in climate policies.

State and local leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas are hearing over and over this week that what they do about global warming may matter the most. Olav Kjorven is the assistant secretary general at the United Nations in charge of its development programme. He says local rules count for more than half the world's climate policies. "You protect your forests from fire, your water supplies from contamination and your coastlines from erosion," he told a ballroom of delegates in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Kjorven offered special congratulations to California's governor. "Because you have blazed a path for other regional governments around the world to follow and indeed regional leaders are becoming leaders in the fight against climate change."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the podium for the second year in a row to tout his environmental policies. This year, he crowed victory. "Now the Obama administration has established a National Emission Standard patterned after California. You see what I'm saying? That's how powerful states and regions are. We really are the laboratories for the national governments. That's where the action is."

Schwarzenegger said California has the largest green economy in the United States. But two groups of protesters frustrated with economic consequences of his policies greeted him outside the summit this year. And inside, environmentalists like the California Wind Energy Association's Faramarz Nabavi criticized him for setting renewable energy standards for utilities by executive order, reversible by the next governor.

"Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has already pledged that she will place a moratorium on all AB 32 climate change rules the day she takes office," he said. CWEA, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are urging the governor not to veto state legislation that would require utilities to obtain a third of their energy from renewables. Schwarzenegger has directed the California Air Resources Board to set what are called "renewable portfolio standards" since that legislation passed. Nabavi and others say executive orders - a legal mechanism Schwarzenegger has used periodically - offer less market certainty than laws, because laws take longer to unravel.

California's ambitions for influencing climate change policy have never been this high. State and local leaders, including the governor himself, are watching those goals turn up the heat.