Gov. Janet Napolitano and governors from four other western states signed an agreement Monday to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the region they believe has been hit hard by global warming.
But questions remain about how the new pact would be implemented and if it could be enforced.
Napolitano, along with the governors from California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, agreed to set regional benchmarks to reduce the emissions of gases believed to be contributing to rising temperatures worldwide.
As a result of global warming, Napolitano and other western state governors claim the region has suffered from prolonged drought, less snowfall and a rising number of forest fires.
The five states now have six months to develop standards and another 18 months after that to come up with a plan to reach the stated goals. A registry made of the five states would track the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative.
“I am going to continue to keep pushing this as one of the top issues facing Arizona and the West,” Napolitano said.
The agreement would be similar to one being used in New England, which is based on a cap and trade program. Companies that can’t meet the new standards could purchase credits from other firms operating below the emissions limit.
But that agreement focused on power and utilities companies that are already under governmental supervision and therefore more easily regulated.
Unlike the agreement in New England, the western regional pact expands beyond utilities to other types of businesses, said Steve Owens, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
But enforcement of the new standards could prove difficult, partly because the state doesn’t currently monitor greenhouse gas emissions from businesses.
Lori Faeth, the governor’s senior policy adviser for natural resources, agriculture and environment, said Arizona and the other states still need to figure out how the program would work.
For example, Faeth said it was unclear whether the governor would need to enact new state law to get the program started or if she could do it through an executive order.
Last year, Napolitano issued an executive order to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by the year 2020. The order also called to reduce emissions to 50 percent below the 2000 level by 2040.
In signing the agreement, Napolitano was highly critical of federal government’s inaction to reduce the effects of global warming.
“In the absence of meaningful federal action it is up to the states to take action to address climate change and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in this country,” Napolitano said. Jim Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona, said “There’s defiantly been an increase in size and intensity,” of fires in Arizona.
That increase in wildfires has been linked to rising seasonal temperatures and the earlier arrival of spring, according to a 2006 study by the University of California at San Diego.
Researchers concluded there was a sudden rise in fires in the late 1980s, based on a database of more that 1,100 forest fires from 1970 to 2003 in the western United States.
The causes and actual existence of global warming remain controversial. But many experts believe humans are indeed causing climate changes. “I think the scientific data is in,” Faeth said. “Climate change is real, it’s human-caused and we need to take action now.” The governor was in Washington attending the annual winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association, of which she is this year’s chairwoman. As part of her visit to the nation’s Capitol, she plans to speak about immigration to members of the National Press Club.