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Arnold Schwarzenegger's deals distract from global warming

Since California was made the first state to limit greenhouse gases, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been signing agreements with other state and foreign governments to address global warming.

He has struck deals with Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, New York, Utah and Washington. He signed one with the United Kingdom even before the California law came into being. And he has made deals with a state in Australia and a province in Canada, where he travels this week to sign two more.

But the Democrats who wrote and passed the global warming bill Schwarzenegger signed into law are not celebrating the governor's dealmaking.

While they appreciate the attention he is bringing to the issue, they say the deals are distracting from the hard work that must be done to put California's law into place.

Moreover, they worry that the governor is using the agreements to help shift the emphasis of the law from strict regulation to an emission trading system favored by businesses that could weaken it.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez recently warned Schwarzenegger in a letter that his push for a carbon trading market that could include other states and countries was "premature and unnecessary."

"Much of your administration's recent time and attention is singularly focused on establishing a cap-and-trade program," Nunez wrote, referring to a system that would allow businesses to reduce their contributions to global warming by purchasing credits from other firms. "This was not the intent of the Legislature."

Schwarzenegger will sign agreements this week with Ontario and British Columbia during a three-day visit to Canada that begins Tuesday and includes stops in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. He also will promote California products and tourism with the state's second-largest trading partner.

Discussing ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be one of the main topics.

The state's global warming law requires industries, such as utilities, oil and gas refineries and cement manufacturers, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over the next 13 years to what they were in 1990.

Scientists say the gases, mostly carbon dioxide, are trapping heat that is melting the polar ice caps and could lead to coastal flooding, drought and other environmental calamities.

While Schwarzenegger acknowledges the dangers, he says companies need flexibility to meet their emissions targets to stay competitive. And he has favored carbon trading markets, like the one being developed in Europe, over the regulatory approach in California's law.

Under a cap-and-trade system, companies that cannot meet their reduction targets would be allowed to buy credits from firms that exceeded their goals.

California's law allows such an approach to be studied, but it says developing regulations to cap emissions takes precedence.

Administration officials say they can develop the new regulations while also fostering future carbon trading markets around the world.

Many environmentalists are suspicious of emissions trading, especially if it means companies are buying credits from faraway places where it is hard to know whether reductions have truly taken place.

"It's a little bit like going on a diet and buying calories from other people," said John White, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. "The question is who is going to start eating less?"

Because no other state has adopted California's emissions caps, the agreements are largely symbolic, and their effects, if any, are years away.

Administration officials acknowledge the deals are not legally binding. But they say Schwarzenegger is pushing other states and countries to act on behalf of the environment.

The previous agreement with British Columbia, for example, is part of a collaboration with Oregon and Washington to extend a hydrogen highway from British Columbia to Baja California. Fueling stations would be built along the way, so that by 2010 a hydrogen-powered vehicle could travel that route.

Governments also are agreeing in principle to work on climate emission caps, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas tailpipe emission standards.

"You're getting states to make these commitments they wouldn't otherwise make for the sake of sharing some of the limelight with California," said Dan Skopec, undersecretary for the state Environmental Protection Agency.

But the governor's tactics have created concern even among environmentalists who generally support what Schwarzenegger is doing.

"When the Democrats say, 'Hey, governor. Keep your eyes on the prize.' That's important," said Karen Douglas, California legislative director for Environmental Defense.

She said the first order of business must be implementing California's global warming law the way it was written.

"It's our most important job right now," she said.

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