The Green Governors

Next week, three Western governors will kick off a national TV campaign designed to spur Washington to take action on climate change. Dressed in natty outdoors-wear and posing in scenic spots, the governors - California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, Utah’s John Huntsman Jr., and Montana’s Brian Schweitzer - describe the global warming battle as “a test of leadership” and call for Congress to pass legislation capping carbon emissions.

In itself, the sight of Schweitzer in thigh-high rubber fishing boots probably won’t be enough to jolt Congress into action. Still, the thirty-second spot, funded by the Environmental Defense advocacy group, makes a serious point: across the country, state-led efforts to tackle climate change are leaving federal lawmakers in the dust.

California is the most obvious example: the state’s dedication to green issues is such that even its carpets are now environmentally friendly. Crucially, despite resistance from the federal government the Golden State has also led the way in seeking to regulate carbon emissions and auto-fuel efficiency.

But it’s not just the Gubernator who’s gone green; California’s successes have shown other leaders what can be achieved with a little political courage. More than a dozen states have now jumped on board California’s emission-busting bandwagon, and are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to win federal approval for their efforts. 

This week, Midwestern governors upped the ante, establishing a regional partnership aimed at reducing emissions, promoting renewable energy and even launching a carbon-trading market. With similar agreements already in place in the West and the Northeast, about half the country’s states are now members of regional climate agreements. “If the Congress fails to act, at least we have a fallback plan,” explained Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

It’s just as well: up on the Hill, the climate change fight is stuck in neutral, with federal lawmakers yet to pass any serious climate legislation. The Senate’s environment committee is pondering the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, which would establish a national cap-and-trade scheme, but there’s little real consensus and no schedule for bringing the proposal to a vote. 

Lawmakers blame their failings on the White House’s resistance to change: there’s a sense that little of consequence can be done until Bush has left the building. But while executive apathy is a real problem, it doesn’t justify legislative inaction; there’s still plenty of groundwork to be done. Regional leaders have shown that real progress is possible; it’s time for Washington’s lawmakers to stop sitting on their hands and join the fight.