TCS Daily

States Fights

By Jon Reisman - March 18, 2003 12:00 AM

COOPER, Maine - Last week I spent time jousting over two bills before the Maine Legislature. One bill puts the brakes on state implementation of Kyoto Protocol, the global treaty designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The other accelerates it. The first bill would bar state expenditures that implement international treaties that have not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. The other would mandate a reduction of Maine's carbon dioxide emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, means unspecified and left to the DEP to decide. The latter legislation endorses and begins to implement the New England Governors/ Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Agreement adopted in 2001, itself modeled on Kyoto.

Kyoto-style greenhouse gas regulation has been stealthily inching forward in Maine. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council's Sandy Liddy Bourne, Kyotophiles (my term, not hers) have been busy across the country, setting the stage for carbon cap and trade programs in New England and the west coast, and carbon sequestration in the Midwest. The EPA and environmental grantmakers have funded a variety of preparatory studies, implementation plans, greenhouse gas inventories, educational conferences for the better part of the last decade. New England's energy regulatory commissions have adopted common language and rules that reflect an underlying assumption that Kyoto will be implemented. Most of New England's Attorneys General are suing the Bush administration to list carbon dioxide as a pollutant and start implementing Kyoto (one interesting absentee is the vacant and GOP appointed New Hampshire AG.)

Efforts by states such as Maine to implement Kyoto despite the U.S. Senate's 95-0 vote against its terms might have had some patina of defensibility when the Clinton administration publicly supported it. But given President Bush's rejection, the constitutionally suspect policy of implementing Kyoto before it might be ratified has morphed into something much more clearly unconstitutional: implementation despite lack of ratification. Coupled with the Constitution's ban on state foreign policy agreements without the consent of Congress (Article 1, Section 10), Maine's Kyoto implementation is clearly on shaky constitutional grounds. When confronted with such unpleasant facts, Maine's greens alternately ignore and derisively dismiss constitutional concerns and repeatedly cite the apocalyptic consequences of not listening to them and implementing Kyoto.

In Maine, the near-incestuous relationships within the environmental establishment - between interest groups, state agencies, and the media - have resulted in environmentalism essentially functioning as a state religion. Publicly opposing the green agenda is subtly and not so subtly presented as immoral.

An essentially supine Maine Republican Party has not previously exploited internecine warfare between Greens and Democrats. Bucking the unofficial state religion is a fairly risky political tactic, and it doesn't help to have two U.S. Senators "leading" in the other direction. Senators Olympia Snowe and Sue Collins may well side with Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords and the greens as cold political calculation. But Senator Collins is also a true believer: In 2001 she publicly endorsed Maine's chapter of the religious environmental coalition that gave us "What Would Jesus Drive?" That group testified in favor of Kyoto implementation last week, and is probably on the short list of faith-based initiative grantees.

But the drive to implement Kyoto may change the political culture and environment in Maine. Opponents mustered some resolve and courage last week, and gave as good as they got. ALEC brought noted climate scientist and Kyoto critic Patrick Michaels up to Augusta, and for the first time Maine greens had some opposition. Michaels ably briefed legislators on the overblown fear mongering behind Kyoto, and devastatingly showed that even if implemented, Kyoto would only reduce warming by an essentially undetectable 14 hundredths of a degree Centigrade per century. That message also made it out through some of the media as well. The briefing undoubtedly bucked up Republicans and perhaps some rural Democrats as well. Supine behavior may yet return, especially if Senators Snowe and Collins continue to back the environmental activists and the Bush administration does nothing.

In all likelihood the Democrats, which control both the legislature and the executive branch in Maine, will pass carbon reduction "goals" and continue the push to implement Kyoto. Legislative endorsement and putting some teeth in the NEG/ECP Climate Change Agreement increases the likelihood of a suit challenging six New England governors in federal court over whether or not the Constitution still applies in New England, even in environmental and religious matters. The Bush administration can continue to get pounded on environmental policy from New England and the west coast, or it can choose to push back with a constitutional and free-market based offensive. There are some of us in Maine who are waiting to be liberated.

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