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California Targets Greenhouse Gas Emissions

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

California's Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is calling for his state to act more forcefully against global warming. That puts him on a different course from some fellow Republicans, including President Bush.

Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE reporting:

The plan, all 1,300 pages of it, is historic, according to Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was developed by a task force he appointed, and it has dozens of recommendations.

The impact? Within 15 years, California's production of greenhouse gases is supposed to be down to what the state spewed out back in 1990.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

JAFFE: But the crowd waiting for the Governor at San Francisco's City Hall was worried about just one recommendation: setting a legal limit for caps on California's greenhouse gas emissions.

In June, Schwarzenegger had merely set targets. No one knew if he'd go further. Tom Tietz is with the California Nevada Cement Promotion Council. He said a legal limit would be dreadful for business in general, and in the cement business in particular.

Mr. TOM TIETZ (Executive Director, California Nevada Cement Promotion Council): We still believe that'll send jobs and production overseas, to countries that don't have these sort of environmental limits.

JAFFE: But a legal cap on greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely essential, said Karen Douglas of Environmental Defense.

Ms. KAREN DOUGLAS (Director, California Climate Initiative at Environmental Defense): Having the governor support the cap is having the governor essentially walk the walk as well as talk the talk. If we don't have a cap, we don't have a serious policy.

JAFFE: It appears neither Tietz nor Douglas will get what they wanted. In an interview with NPR, Schwarzenegger said before there's a mandatory cap, data needs to be collected. Measurements must be made.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): I think this is the only way we're going to find out if we make progress, and if we're hitting our goals. I think that the first few years, we shouldn't think about a cap at all. I think we should do it in another way.

JAFFE: So you're not necessarily against a cap, but you think it needs to be later?

Governor SCHWARZENEGGER: I think that we have to give it a chance first without a cap. And then, if it doesn't work, and if we see we are not quite making the progress that we intended to make, then we can put caps on it.

JAFFE: California ranks twelfth in the world in greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger said if the state takes on the challenge of reducing them, it will have a tremendous impact.

Governor SCHWARZENEGGER: Everything that we do, and if we are successful, everyone ends up copying us.

JAFFE: That's not just bragging. For example, four years ago, California passed a law regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Ten other states adopted similar measures. The Bush administration is now trying to stop them from taking effect. Whatever happens with Schwarzenegger's new plan to cut greenhouse gases, he's already using it as a campaign tool.

(Soundbite of television commercial)

Unidentified Announcer: (In commercial clip) Tomorrow is going to be a little better than today for California families...

JAFFE: Polls show that more than 70 percent of Californians are in favor of reducing gasses that cause global warming.

Unidentified Announcer: (In commercial clip) ...reducing greenhouse gasses, and better protection for our ocean and coastline. Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership is making California work again.

JAFFE: Global warming is a good issue to help Schwarzenegger win back the independents and moderate democrats who helped elect him, and who deserted him in droves during last year's special election, says Corey Cook, a political science professor at Cal State, San Francisco.

Professor COREY COOK (Assistant Professor of Political Science, Cal State, San Francisco): His poll numbers are pretty dismal at the moment, but I think in his favor, most of the surveys sort of indicate that, we like the Arnold that we elected the first time. We're just not sure that that's who you've governed as. So if he can, in the next three or four months, convince voters that I'm a moderate, that I'm an environmentalist, it absolutely changes the debate that was going on in the general election.

JAFFE: So, Schwarzenegger's campaign to cut greenhouse gasses may help him breathe a little easier in the run-up to November.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."