Schwarzenegger, in Copenhagen, Gives an Important Reminder of the Role of Subnational Governments. Like, the U.S. States, For Example.

by Ben Somberg

December 16, 2009

In his speech in Copenhagen Tuesday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded international leadership on climate change, but said that national or international agreements alone will not address the issue. He said that the "scientists, the capitalists and the activists" across the world have and will play an important role. And he talked about the job for subnational governments, like his own:

While national governments have been fighting over emission targets, subnational governments have been adopting their own targets and laws and policies.


In California, we are proceeding on renewable energy requirements and a cap and trade system for greenhouse gases. We are moving forward. As a matter of fact, we are making great progress. If hydro is included, we will get 45 percent of our energy from renewables in ten years from now and we are already at 27 percent.

We are proceeding on the world's first low carbon fuel standards and limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars which, by the way, the Obama Administration has now just adopted. We are proceeding in a major way on green tech, no matter what happens in Washington or in Copenhagen.

I bring this all up as a reminder of the role of states here in the United States. The question: will federal climate change legislation, if and when it is passed, perhaps pre-empt states from taking some of these important steps Schwarzenegger spoke of?

We've talked about the good and the bad on this matter in some of the proposals so far (on Waxman-Markey, see William Buzbee, Kirsten Engel, and Alice Kaswan; on Boxer-Kerry, see Buzbee).

Just last week, Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman lamented what they said was a "patchwork of inconsistent state and regional regulations." Quite a contrast to how Schwarzenegger put it. We'll be keeping tabs on the matter in the coming months.

Some of the most important ways to reduce energy consumption are uniquely within the province of state and local governments – such as zoning, regulation of electric utilities, and building codes. These governments have both expertise and legal authorities that the federal government doesn't, and in many cases they have proven results in lowering emissions.

For a bunch more on the issue, see our white paper from last year, Cooperative Federalism and Climate Change: Why Federal, State, and Local Governments Must Continue to Partner.

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