Wind shift on the Plains

October 25, 2007

When a state in the heart of the Great Plains became the first in the nation to reject a coal-fired power plant because its carbon emissions would contribute to global warming, the decision was so startling it could well have prompted Dorothy's observation upon blowing into Oz: "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

Indeed, not everyone in the traditionally conservative state agreed with the bold move last week by the administration of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Her rejection of the utility permit is likely to be challenged.

Nonetheless, Kansas has sent a powerful signal that global warming isn't just a coastal concern, and echoes the message from other state leaders, including those in Maryland, that they have run out of patience with the federal government's refusal to act.

The timing could be auspicious. The Senate is beginning work this week on a bipartisan measure that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from utility, industrial and transportation sources by setting overall ceilings and allowing polluters to save, trade or sell credits within those limits.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland believes the measure has the best chance of several competing versions to win enactment before the current Congress adjourns next year. But it will need substantial support to overcome a threatened veto from President Bush, and is at best only a good start.

The effects of global warming are ever more visible in melting ice caps, rising seas, punishing droughts and raging fires. Yet Mr. Bush, who only recently acknowledged the trend, will back only voluntary steps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that get trapped in the atmosphere and create the warming effect.

Partly at issue in Kansas is whether the state has the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. State officials are relying on a Supreme Court decision in the spring that held CO2 should be regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, but the Bush administration has declined to do so.

In Maryland, the General Assembly voted last year to join 10 Northeastern states in a compact to reduce CO2 from power plants by auctioning pollution allowances to finance improved technology. Plans for new utilities in Maryland are focused on nuclear power, which emits no pollution but poses waste storage issues.

Impatience with the federal government also applies to Congress, which has dragged its feet for years on raising vehicle fuel-efficiency standards - the single most effective step it could take to curb global warming.

Congressional leaders should take a cue from Kansas and quit dithering while there's still time to act.

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