Divided on Climate Change
Part 3: From Local to Global, Climate Change Legislation is Gaining Ground
From Local to Global, Climate Change Legislation is Gaining Ground
By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor - March 2010 - Green
Despite the optimism of environmental advocates, it's far from a sure thing that federal action will occur in 2010. But that doesn't mean nothing will happen.
"Without federal legislation, lots of states will be ramping up energy efficiency programs," says Nadel. "More and more states are looking at laws."
In the absence of federal measures, state and local governments have taken their own steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. California was the first state to move on the issue. The state's Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2006, calls for greenhouse gas emissions reductions to 1990 levels by 2020. Oregon and Connecticut are among the other states with emissions reduction legislation on the books. Several more states, via executive order or other methods, have instituted emissions reductions goals.
Building energy labeling — now required in California, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Seattle — is another route state and local governments have taken to combat emissions and improve energy efficiency.
"Building energy labeling is becoming a trend," says Nadel. "People are looking to be more informed about energy-use data because it can really affect the value of buildings."
Waxman-Markey calls for EPA to set up a national energy-labeling system, which would require owners to benchmark energy data and provide it to potential tenants or buyers.
Additionally, many states already have their own established renewable portfolio and energy efficiency resource standards in place — both of which Waxman-Markey would establish on a national level.
What happens to state and local laws in areas of overlap if federal legislation is enacted? According to Nadel, the laws would be reconciled on a statute-by-statute basis. For instance, a federal cap and trade system would trump any state emissions law. So would the national energy code proposed in Waxman-Markey. But, for other mandates, like the renewable portfolio standard, whichever requirement was more stringent would become the law of that particular land.
So, with so much happening so quickly, it's never been more important for facility managers and building owners to remain steadfast and up-to-speed. Even amid the contentious Congressional battles over health care and financial reform, President Obama made clear in his 2010 State of the Union address that he still considers a comprehensive energy and climate bill a top priority. In this no-man's-time before a climate/energy bill — in whatever form — makes it to the president's desk or before EPA regulations are enacted, facility managers should stay the course of their own energy efficiency plans to be as prepared as possible when federal action comes, whenever that might be.
Small Step Toward Global Action
On the surface, the Copenhagen Accord that emerged from the December Copenhagen Climate Summit may not seem like much. The non-binding agreement allows nations to set their own emissions reduction goals, but with no penalties if goals aren't met.
European nations and American environmentalists were disappointed that no legally binding agreement emerged. President Obama, who played an important role in brokering the final deal, called the agreement an important first step.
Still, some observers suggest that the Accord is about the best that could have been hoped for, and there are some definite positives. For example, China and India signed the Accord, the first time the world's two largest developing economies have agreed to set emissions reduction goals. China has pledged to reduce its emissions 40 to 45 percent by 2020 over 2005 levels. India's goal is 20 to 25 percent over the same period.
"What people don't realize is that Copenhagen would have been a complete failure if President Obama hadn't intervened," says Manik Roy, vice president, federal government outreach, for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "There was absolutely nothing happening until he went. For the first time, China and India are prepared for action."
Another positive to emerge from the Accord is the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, which provides a pool of about $30 billion over the next three years to help poor nations mitigate the effects of climate change. It is funded by the European Union, the United States, and Japan, among others.
So, even though the Accord didn't bring about the legally binding agreement that many hoped for, it was still a positive first step, say some experts.
"What happened in Copenhagen provides just one more reason for the U.S. to move forward with clean energy policy," says Roger Platt, senior vice president for global policy and law at the United States Green Building Council. "Countries from all over the world have lined up to commit to tackling climate change, and the U.S. will be working with many of those countries to ensure sustainable development."
— Greg Zimmerman