State Attorneys General Press Bush Administration For Federal Leadership to Address Global Warming

Wednesday, July 17, 2002
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(SACRAMENTO) – California Attorney General Bill Lockyer joined today with 10 other state attorneys generals in calling on the Bush Administration to reconsider its position on the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and to take leadership in this global environmental threat.

In a five-page letter sent Wednesday to the President, the attorneys general noted that individual states such as California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire already are moving to protect Americans from the threats of climate change in the absence of federal leadership.

"Californians are facing serious threats such as coastal flooding and severe water shortages that are linked to the unnatural warming of our planet caused by emissions of so-called greenhouse gases," Lockyer said. "California is boldly moving ahead to address the global warming problem with a state plan to require automakers to sell more fuel-efficient cars. More can be done to protect our families and children with federal leadership on this global issue."

The California Legislature recently passed legislation that would lead to the "maximum feasible" reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. The bill by Assembly Member Fran Pavley is awaiting Governor Davis' signature. In response to the lack of initiative at the federal level, several other states are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the local level. In Massachusetts, state regulations were adopted last year requiring carbon dioxide reductions by power plants and in New Hampshire "cap and trade" legislation was recently enacted. A "carbon cap" also is being considered in New York.

The letter to President Bush calling for a "strong national approach" to environmental and health risks impose by climate change was sent by the attorneys general from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Identifying climate change as the "most pressing environmental challenge of the 21st century," the Attorneys General pointed to a May 2002 report that the United States recently issued as cause for immediate action. The report, U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, confirms the dangers of global climate change and projects that its primary cause, emissions of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of fossil fuels - will increase by 43 percent by 2020.

While the Bush Administration is now acknowledging the negative impacts of global climate change, the Attorneys General expressed concern that it has yet to propose a credible plan addressing the findings and conclusions outlined in its recent report. Rather than proposing a solution, the recent report focuses on the need to accommodate coming changes, suggesting, for example, that increased use of air conditioning should be used to deal with heat-related health impacts. The Attorneys General likened the Bush Administration's approach to former Interior Secretary Hodel's infamous suggestion that the government contend with the hole in the ozone layer by encouraging Americans to make better use of sunglasses, suntan lotion and broad brimmed hats.

According to the State Department's report, global climate change, primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, can result in:

* Increased Temperatures. Average temperatures have already increased by one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, and are likely to increase by five to nine degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. An increase will dramatically change climates in every state and destroy some fragile ecosystems.

* Rising Sea Levels. Sea levels have already risen four to eight inches over the last century and are likely to rise another 4 to 35 inches during the next century. Rising sea levels will cause more coastal flooding, and will obliterate vital estuaries, coastal wetlands and barrier islands. The result will be increased storm and storm damage in some areas and dwindling water supply in others, such as California and other parts of the West.

* Increased Health Risks. The effects of climate change can result in illnesses and deaths associated with temperature extremes, storms and other heavy precipitation events, air pollution, water contamination, and diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and rodents. A just published study in the journal, Science, warns of increased risks from insect-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

Lockyer noted that health and environmental experts such as Dr. Paul R. Epstein from Harvard Medical School see global warming as a growing problem with major implications.

"Not only have we underestimated the rate at which climate would change, recent studies indicate that we have underestimated the rate at which organisms, including insects and others that can transport disease, are reacting to these changes," said Epstein, Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "The question we need to be asking is not whether we can afford to do something about climate change, but whether we can afford not to."

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