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Governor expected to support major global-warming plan for region

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is getting greener and greener.

Pawlenty is expected to join Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and other Midwest governors Thursday in Milwaukee and sign on to a major regional plan to reduce carbon emissions linked to global warming.

The initiative — likely to include a market-driven approach to controlling pollution — is one of several clean-energy ideas Pawlenty has supported that are drawing praise from environmental advocates.

The action by governors also signals a growing impatience by the states with Congress and the Bush administration for failing to address dire warnings on the unwanted effects of climate change.

“States are finally taking responsibility for their contribution to the global warming problem,” said Bill Grant, director of the Izaak Walton League in St. Paul. Grant helped draft proposals being considered by governors attending an energy summit in Milwaukee, which Pawlenty is co-hosting with Doyle.

Pawlenty, Doyle and at least two other governors are expected to commit to a regional compact called the Midwestern Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform. States in two other parts of the country — 10 Northeast and Atlantic states, and six Western states, including California — have formed similar compacts.

 

Top priority
The move puts Pawlenty increasingly at odds with some business interests and many in his own Republican Party. Dealing with global warming has only tepid support among many Republicans, and industry groups have expressed unease over expanded government regulation of carbon emissions.

Pawlenty made clean energy and energy conservation top priorities when he took over as chairman of the National Governor’s Association in September.

On Tuesday the governor touted Minnesota’s commitment to renewable energy in an address to the Energy Efficiency Global Forum in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year he eagerly signed Minnesota’s aggressive Next Generation Energy Act (Next Gen) setting tight limits on carbon emissions for electric utilities.

The governor also plans to join explorer Will Steger on a trip to the Arctic to view ice melt that United Nations scientists say is caused by climate change due to carbon emissions.

In Thursday’s announcement the governors are expected to report that they have agreed to a framework for regional rules on how much carbon may be emitted and a regulatory approach to ratchet down emissions over time.

“We’ll be watching this very closely,” said Grant, who is part of a coalition of environmental activists in Minnesota.

In addition to Minnesota and Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and possibly Illinois are likely to join the agreement. The five states already have signed other agreements to reduce carbon emissions.

Grant said that the new agreement will not relax current carbon-reduction laws in Minnesota. The Next Gen law requires utilities to produce 25 percent of their power with fuel other than carbon-ladened coal by 2025 — a tough standard considering electricity producers have to account for growing demand. Under the law, carbon emissions from utilities must be reduced by 80 percent by 2050.

Grant and others in the Minnesota environmental movement give Pawlenty high marks for his support of some potentially far-reaching environmental initiatives, including a mercury-reduction law in 2006 that the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter called “one of the strongest in the country.”

Concerning carbon emissions, J. Drake Hamilton, science policy advisory at the advocacy group, Fresh Energy in St. Paul, said: “We’re very encouraged … the governor sees this as a national issue. We need heartland leadership on these issues — and we’ll be tracking deeds not words.”

 

‘Cap and trade’
Today’s agreement will commit participating states to help draft rules to be adopted by the states over the next year or 18 months. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Commerce will represent Minnesota in the drafting sessions.

So far, the most discussed regulatory idea that could be put in place is a regional “cap and trade” mechanism — a market-driven approach to pollution control that effectively reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States in the 1990s.

Under the system, states would set a “cap” of allowable emissions from electric utilities, the largest sources and easiest to identify.

Within the “cap,” utilities would be assigned allowable emission limits. Power plants that exceed the limit could buy allowances from sources that are under the limit. This is the “trade” part, and it would operate in the form of a public auction in which polluters would bid for extra emission allowances.

The “cap” would be reduced over time, increasing the cost to pollute — and increasing incentives to clean up.

The tension in the approach will be where the “cap” is initially set and how quickly the pollution limit will be reduced over time.

Utilities and others warn that under this system, the price of electricity will increase, although that hasn’t always been the case in the past.

Ron Way, a former reporter for several Midwest newspapers, covers the environment and energy issues. He can be reached at rway [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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