Vowing to make the Midwest the “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy, ” Gov. Jim Doyle and nine other governors and regional leaders will sign an accord today to reduce the release of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The accord would establish the first-ever state caps on six greenhouse gases from sources such as factories and power plants, along with a market system to allow companies to trade pollution credits and likely reduce emissions by at least 60 percent over time, according to advance details provided to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The agreement by the Midwestern Governors Association is a two-pronged approach that would also push the use of cleaner-burning fuels and renewable energy by drawing on regional resources such as farms, forests and universities.
But the agreement faces an enormous challenge — turning the tide of carbon emissions in a region that depends heavily on coal-fired power plants and old-line factories. It also faces opposition from business groups that fear energy price hikes for consumers and argue a national agreement — not a regional one — is needed.
“It ‘s hard to imagine the Midwest governors as recent as two, three or four years ago ” taking this step, said Dan Kohler, executive director for the advocacy group Wisconsin Environment. “Things have really changed in terms of how serious people understand the issue of global warming to be. “
The move expected in Milwaukee comes in the face of what the governors say is a lack of federal action.
“This is a momentous day in Milwaukee, ” Doyle, the chairman of the governors association, said in a speech there Wednesday. “Leaders from across the Midwest are charting a new energy direction for our citizens, our nation and our world, creating high-paying jobs for our citizens and building a cleaner and safer world for the generation to come. “
The accord comes amid rising concern about global climate change and oil prices that have risen to more than $90 a barrel. It also follows regional agreements — one by 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and another by five western states — to work toward greenhouse gas cuts.
The United Nations ‘ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group that drew on the work of hundreds of scientists, said this year that the build-up of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide is very likely contributing to a warming of the planet.
The governors signing the accord will commit to reaching more specific goals for the greenhouse gas caps within the next year and implementing the fleshed-out agreement within 30 months.
Doyle spokesman Matt Canter said the final agreement would likely cut the region ‘s emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent compared to current levels by an unspecified date, likely decades in the future. That would be consistent with the panel ‘s recommendations, he said.
The agreement would rely on a market exchange to allow power plants and factories to swap pollution debits and credits, allowing industries that emit more pollution to trade with those that produce less. But it would also use methods such as increasing energy efficiency and creating an elaborate system to capture carbon emissions, ship them across state lines and store them underground.
Kohler said it would be important to see the final details of the plan and “how firm will the commitments be ” to reduce greenhouse gases. He said his group supports an 80 percent cut by 2050.
Lobbying group opposed
Scott Manley, an environmental policy director with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said market exchange systems have helped to reduce other pollution such as acid rain.
But Manley said the powerful business lobby would oppose any greenhouse gas exchange limited to this region since it could drive up the costs for consumers and businesses here, pushing high-paying manufacturing jobs to other states.
“The only way we can do that is through a national policy, because then we ‘re all on the same playing field, ” Manley said. “There are market efficiencies that come into play and if you fracture markets, you lose those efficiencies. “
Doyle said the agreement would create jobs by capitalizing on Midwestern resources to produce wind power and ethanol fuels made from sources such as corn and waste from forest products.
“Our strong manufacturing base and rich agricultural industries, along with the wealth of resources in our vast northern forests and our world-leading research universities, position the Midwest to become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy, ” Doyle said.