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The Planet

States: The Opportunity Level of Government

BY PAULA CARRELL

Are you looking for a chance to work towards strengthening environmental protections? You may not need to look any further than your state capitol. While Congress and the Bush administration seem to be dead set on dismantling decades of air, water, and land protection laws, state legislators across the country are moving resolutely in the opposite direction. With your help, progress is still possible.

Below is a sampling of proactive environmental protection measures supported by the Sierra Club and under consideration by state legislatures or rule-making bodies. To join this parade, contact your local chapter, befriend your close-to-home state legislators, sharpen your pen, and help carry us all forward into the future. (This is the first year of what is for most states a two-year legislative session-between now and the 2006 election.)

Clean Cars/Clean Air: In Washington State, improved air quality and consumer savings on fuel costs are a real possibility, as the legislature considers a bill to adopt the California clean car standards. Under the Clean Air Act, states can adopt federal emissions standards or the tougher California standards, and a growing number of states are insisting that the auto industry produce for their drivers the same clean cars that Californians get to drive. Eight states and Canada have already chosen clean cars, and affordable vehicles that meet these standards are in dealer showrooms today.

The bill being considered in Washington would mandate that new cars and trucks sold in the state emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide, 20 percent fewer toxics, and 15 to 20 percent fewer smog-causing pollutants than vehicles sold under the current federal standards. "If you don't think about the air, think about the costs," says the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle). Improved gas mileage will save drivers $20 billion by 2020.

Similar legislation has been introduced in North Carolina, and other states-Tennessee and South Carolina among them-are considering incentives like tax credits for clean vehicle purchases and a mandate that state government fleets include a percentage of low emission cars and trucks.

Getting the Mercury Out: Governors and state legislators in Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York are considering measures that would reduce emissions of toxic mercury from coal-fired power plants faster and more significantly than the Bush administration's proposed mercury standards. In Minnesota, Republican Ray Cox and Democrat Scott Dibble have introduced a bill calling for a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2011. In New Hampshire, the state Senate passed a bill requiring the state's coal-fired power plants to eliminate 80 percent of the mercury they emit by 2013.

The new proposed federal standards would let coal-fired power plants release three times more mercury into the air than strong enforcement of the existing Clean Air Act would allow, and delays full reductions for years longer. According to a recent report by the EPA Inspector General, EPA political appointees set "modest" new mercury pollution limits that just so happened to coincide with those in the administration's "Clear Skies" proposal. They then told EPA scientists to work backward to justify those limits.

Clean Energy Action: State legislators in Montana are moving a bill to mandate the production of power from renewable sources in their state. Other states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington, are approaching the same problem from the consumption side by considering measures to reduce energy waste by increasing building or appliance energy-efficiency standards.

Clean Water Is Fundamental: In Michigan, state legislators are seeking to reduce the water pollution caused by confined animal feeding operations (at the same time that the Bush administration has decided to study the problem for a few more years). In Hawaii, legislators have introduced a bill to guarantee that all those cruise ships are not dumping their sewage into the islands' marine environment. Does it come as a surprise that no one in Michigan or Hawaii really wants to swim or surf in sewage?

Protecting Wetlands and Wildlife: Wetlands are critical to many species, not to mention their contribution to clean water for our own species. In New York, Illinois, South Carolina, and Maine, bills have been introduced that would protect acres of wetland habitat not protected under federal rules.

In Wyoming, the state legislature passed a bill establishing a Wildlife Trust. Governor Freudenthal then used the line-item veto to tidy the bill up, creating a solid program to purchase land or easements for wildlife habitat protection. The fund will start out with $15 million-an amount the governor is expected to enhance from his flexible spending account.

With these victories at hand, celebration is in order. Come join the parade.


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