The liberal governors of California, Washington and Oregon took the place of President Trump Sunday at an international climate change conference in Germany, and told world leaders that the White House’s refusal to combat global warming means nothing to them.
“Donald Trump cannot stop us,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said during a speech at the high-profile event that the Trump administration did not attend. “He cannot stop us from having limitations on carbon emissions. He cannot stop us from incentive programs to incentivize solar panels. He cannot stop me from having a clean energy research fund at our universities.”
Mr. Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown essentially acted as America’s representatives at the summit and cast themselves as the country’s leaders on the environment. Their Pacific Coast Collaborative — a group that also includes British Columbia — aims to meet the original U.S. emissions-reduction commitment laid out in the Paris climate agreement, a deal Mr. Trump said he’ll scrap but one that virtually every other country on Earth has signed on to.
Other high-profile Democrats, such as renowned climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, also are attending the summit, but they lack the power to actually shape policy in the manner governors can.
The prominence of Mr. Brown, Mr. Inslee and Ms. Brown on the world stage, along with other ambitious steps such as Virginia’s new plan to impose a cap-and-trade system across its power-generation sector, highlights just how aggressive Democrats at the state level intend to be as the Trump administration backs away at home and abroad from a serious climate agenda.
In the case of Virginia, state leaders this week will unveil a broad plan to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions and will potentially join a Northeast cap-and-trade coalition. The proposal had been in the works for months but was released only after Democrat Ralph Northam’s victory in last week’s gubernatorial election.
On the West Coast, states have reacted to Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris deal with defiance. Signed in December 2015, the Paris pact included a U.S. promise to cut emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 when compared to 2005 levels, one of the most extreme targets of any country that signed the agreement.
While Mr. Trump said over the summer the U.S. will no longer try to meet that goal, West Coast governors say their states still will stick by it. Their commitment to the Paris deal seems to have ingratiated them with world leaders who see the accord as a landmark moment in the fight against climate change, and see Mr. Trump as hopelessly out of touch.
In fact, the governors are even using Mr. Trump as a rallying point for international action. Mr. Brown singled out the president’s past claim that climate change is a Chinese “hoax” as an example of how he simply shouldn’t be taken seriously on the issue.
“Trump came along, and he says there is no climate change, it’s a hoax, it’s a Chinese hoax,” he said during a panel discussion Sunday at the Bonn gathering. “When you have the leader of America saying an obvious falsehood, absurdity, nonsense, that generates a certain amount of energy. Paradoxically, it’d be better if President Trump was leading the charge to do what’s right on climate change, but the fact that his opposition is framed in the form of an absurdity helps undermine the denialist case.”
Specifically, the West Coast states have imposed their own limits on emissions, invested huge amounts of money into wind and solar power, incentivized electric cars, launched major energy efficiency programs and taken a host of other steps.
California has one of the most sweeping cap-and-trade programs in the country, and that approach continues to grow in popularity, mostly in Democrat-led states.
In Virginia, state officials on Thursday will present a new regulatory emissions framework to Virginia’s pollution board. A publicly available draft of that framework shows that the state aims to implement an emissions threshold that would steadily go down each year from 2020 to 2030, and that it plans to institute a cap-and-trade scheme under which polluters must buy credits for their emissions.
The draft lays out the priorities of the program, including to: “Develop a proposed regulation for the state Air Pollution Control Board’s consideration to abate, control, or limit CO2 from electric power facilities that includes provisions to ensure that Virginia’s regulation is ‘trading-ready’ to allow for the use of market-based mechanisms and the trading of CO2 allowances through a multi-state trading program.”
If implemented as currently written, the program would be very similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a coalition of 10 Northeastern states, including Maryland. The system requires power plants to hold credits for each ton of greenhouse gas pollution, and each state sets its own limits.
RGGI already has weighed in on Virginia’s plan, saying it follows in the footsteps of those already in place all along the East Coast.
“The RGGI states applaud Virginia’s progress towards establishing a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. As we evaluate Virginia’s proposed regulation, we are pleased to note that it appears consistent with the RGGI program in a number of key ways,” the group said in a statement.