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New England Governors Play Make-Believe...Again

By Jon Reisman - March 15, 2004 12:00 AM

In August 2001, shortly after President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, New England's Governors joined with their eastern Canadian counterparts and announced their own climate change agreement (CCA). The CCA calls for each state and province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (principally carbon dioxide) to 1990 levels by 2010, 10% below that by 2020, and "eventually" by 70% or more. The New England Governor's Conference, which has coordinated this international agreement, is holding a big climate change conference in Boston on March 15th and 16th.

The primary conference goal is to "provide New England and Eastern Canadian natural resource managers, policy makers and other stakeholders a strong base of scientific knowledge about the present and potential effects of climate change on the region's natural resources."

A large climate change science and policy network has grown up in New England, fed by federal and foundation funds. The New England Climate Coalition and the Pew funded Clean Air/Cool Planet are the leading NGOs. Eleven of New England's twelve U.S. Senators support legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. New England's Attorneys General are suing the U.S. EPA (which is ironically funding the conference) to list carbon dioxide as a pollutant and regulate it. Academics have found a grant treasure trove, and studies that emphasize worst case scenarios and ignore potential global warming benefits have clearly been favored. Maine's chief climate research academic proclaimed that skeptics were "flat-earthers," an assessment that I'm sure had no effect on proposals and awards whatsoever.

The whole panoply of Kyotophiles will be on display in Boston. The keynote address by Canadian activist/ecologist David Suzuki is titled "Climate Change and Our Resources: Saving the Planet's Biodiversity." Following that scary scenario, the deleterious impacts of climate change on New England's economy and environment will be presented. Finally, conferees will consider "Undertaking Adaptation Efforts," which might be a grudging nod to post-Kyoto reality (on the other hand, at the last meeting many of the Governors arrived in large SUVs).

The conference presents the litany that climate change is real, man-made and apocalyptic. That message, cleansed of scientific and policy uncertainty, will be dutifully repeated and broadcast to policy makers and the public. When Soviet science and policy followed this path ignoring and repressing politically incorrect and inconvenient science, it set back Russian biology and agricultural policy for a generation. Judging from the rather cool reception environmentalists are according "sound science" legislation, they have reached a "consensus": only true believers need apply.

Apart from distorting the science and manipulating public opinion, New England has made very little actual progress in reducing emissions, other than the reductions caused by economic downturns and the loss of manufacturing jobs. There was a lot of talk last year about installing synchronized low energy traffic lights throughout New England and the Maritimes, but that seems to have subsided. New Hampshire and Massachusetts have laws on the books to regulate carbon emissions from power generation, but have made no move to implement them anytime soon. Maine passed a law last year to implement the CCA, and the state is currently preparing a plan to meet those targets. It is unlikely that it will include anything that might actually raise energy prices in a direct and obvious way, or that the legislature would approve it if it did. Should Maine's efforts to implement the CCA actually have an identifiable cost, there is a good chance the state will be sued in federal court for implementing an international and interstate agreement that does not have the consent of Congress as the U.S. Constitution requires.

New Englanders may want to shut down Midwestern coal plants and combat climate change, but they have evidenced very little willingness to pay for these things, or even admit there might be a cost involved. Our Governors, Senators and Attorneys General have done nothing to suggest otherwise.

Stewardship and sustainability are powerful political and spiritual values, but the reality of environmental commitment in New England and the nation is an unwillingness to impose any substantially obvious costs on the general public, because the public might not react in the environmentally and politically correct manner. The result is opaque bureaucratic command and control schemes as opposed to direct, effective but too transparent market-based incentives. Environmental benefits are "sexed up" while the associated costs are obfuscated, hidden and ignored.

Jon Reisman is an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias. He is also a Maine Public Policy Institute scholar and contributor to TechCentralStation.com.


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