Monday, January 23, 2006

'Blue' States Tackling Energy On Their Own; Federal Efficiency Rules Fall Short
'Blue' States Tackling Energy On Their Own
Federal Efficiency Rules Fall Short, Some Say

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer

Democratic-leaning states increasingly are regulating energy use and emissions, working around a GOP-controlled federal government that state officials say has not done enough.

The states are creating energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs and household appliances, limiting power plant and automobile output linked to global warming, and requiring the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

Leading the effort are "blue" states that voted Democratic in the 2004 presidential election. Even some of those states that have Republican governors, such as California and Connecticut, are making their own rules.

"In a way, the left is controlling that agenda," said Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the energy program at Rice University in Houston. "They're just implementing it at the community and state level."

Jaffe and other analysts said some of the policies would have to be adopted nationally to have a significant impact on the environment and energy consumption. But with other policies, such as the auto emissions limits, they said a sufficient number of big states are adopting regulations to make a significant difference nationally. "If all these giant-population states do this, does it matter that we don't have a national policy?" Jaffe asked.

Seven states that voted Democratic in 2004's presidential election have signed on to a regional plan to restrict power plant emissions. Eleven states that went Democratic have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, automobile tailpipe emissions requirements, which face a court challenge before they can be implemented. Nine of the 10 states that have adopted appliance efficiency regulations also voted Democratic.

Requirements that a portion of electricity come from renewable sources have caught on beyond the Democratic-leaning states. Seven states that went Republican in 2004 have joined 13 Democratic-leaning states and the District of Columbia in setting those rules.

Though the new regulations are not necessarily partisan, the activists behind them say their adoption requires lawmakers and constituents who are concerned about global warming and energy-conservation -- issues that Democrats often emphasize.

The Bush administration welcomes state efforts "as long as they do not put Americans out of jobs or move emissions from one state to another or one country to another," said Michele St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

State officials say their constituents are demanding new limits on pollution and energy consumption. "What is frustrating is that these things aren't being done on a national basis," said Maine Gov. John E. Baldacci (D).

In some cases, states complain that the federal government has failed to take steps required by law.

The Energy Department has not decided if it should implement some new rules for appliance energy efficiency or update some old ones, for example, even though legal deadlines have passed for numerous appliances, such as home furnaces and boilers. The department says it is working on improving its performance.

Some Republican lawmakers in Washington defended their record on energy matters, noting that they approved an energy bill last year designed to increase energy supplies and promote cleaner energy sources. Lawmakers said they support allowing states to chart their own course, though they may disagree with some of the measures.

"Unless we get involved in a situation . . . where we make it almost impossible for there to be an automobile market in the United States, I don't see anything wrong with the states being involved," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

States are having an impact in a number of ways.

Aggressive action at the state level has forced manufacturers to agree to some national efficiency requirements for appliances. After several states moved to regulate ceiling fans, for instance, manufacturers agreed to national standards to avoid the expense and hassle of customizing products for individual states.

But there are still a number of state appliance restrictions for which there are no federal rules, creating costly complications for manufacturers. The 10 states that have passed their own energy efficiency standards do not always agree on which appliances should be covered or what the standards should be.

California is the only state with separate standards for hot tubs and pool pumps. Only Massachusetts has rules for residential furnaces, boilers and the fans inside. California has standards for televisions, DVD players and recorders, and New York has taken initial steps toward making its own rules for the same products.

The state-by-state standards are "absolutely a nightmare for our members," said Keith McCoy, the National Association of Manufacturers' vice president of resources and environmental policy in Washington. "They create a patchwork of regulatory compliance issues."

Industry has supported some state measures that require energy generation by renewable sources. Even politically conservative states such as Texas have signed on, at least partially because supporters think the new rules could have a positive impact on the environment without creating a negative one on the economy.

With the regional power plant emissions plan, seven Northeastern states have agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Environmentalists had lobbied heavily for the measure as a way to limit the release of gasses linked to global warming.

The electric industry opposes the power plant restrictions, saying the result could be a loss of manufacturing jobs to countries where the cost of producing electricity is lower. The industry argues that states acting alone cannot have a significant impact on worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

"There's not really anything that can be done locally or at a state level or local level to put a significant dent in greenhouse gasses," said Bill Fang, the climate issue director for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group in Washington.

Another group of states has targeted automobiles, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The rules limiting the amount of carbon dioxide and other gasses that can come out of tailpipes would go beyond federal regulations already in place.

Automakers, which are suing to have the rules overturned, say the restrictions would push up prices and reduce sales.

But local officials -- tired of waiting on the federal government to beef up its own pollution-control rules -- say they have acted prudently in attempting to take charge of what comes out of the tailpipes and smokestacks in their states.

"The federal standards are simply not good enough," said Gina McCarthy, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection. "If we can't get the federal government to act, then we have to take action in any way we can."