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After the 2006 midterm elections, the House and Senate are undoubtedly greener. The new House leadership has already pledged to shift subsidies and tax breaks from polluting energy industries to cleaner energy options. Similarly, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), incoming chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has set out an ambitious agenda on global warming. But even though we have a greener Congress, the kind of bold and visionary reforms we need on global warming and energy are unlikely to be enacted by this Congress as long as George W. Bush is in the White House and the Senate requires 60 votes to break a filibuster. That said, we now have an opportunity to at least start moving forward on energy policy in a bipartisan manner, particularly when the benefits of tackling global warming and cleaning up our energy supply are not only environmental but economic, as well. And a closely divided Congress could take its cues from the encouraging progress recently made in statehouses around the country. STATES STEP FORWARD Realizing that relief from Washington, D.C., would be slow in coming and understanding that we simply do not have the luxury of time, states and cities have surged forward on these issues. California, long a leader on environmental issues, is once more at the head of the class on global warming. First, it has laid out automobile emissions standards that will reduce the global warming pollution from new vehicles by about 30 percent by 2016. Eleven other states have followed California’s lead and adopted these same standards. Second, California ordered the nation’s first mandatory cuts in carbon emissions. The landmark law, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will cut the state’s emissions 25 percent by 2020. Boxer has indicated she will look closely at California’s law as a model for federal legislation. On the other side of the country, seven Northeastern states have launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to institute a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions from power plants. CLEAN JOBS Other states are implementing other solutions, including aggressive energy-efficiency programs and renewable-portfolio standards. The latter require that a certain percentage of a state’s electricity come from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Gov. Ed Rendell’s leadership in establishing renewable-portfolio standards in Pennsylvania — and thus creating a stable market for renewable energy — allowed his state to best Minnesota in the competition for a new wind turbine factory. Gamesa, the large Spanish wind energy company, has decided to invest $34 million in a facility that will create 530 good-paying union jobs in Fairless Hills, Pa., an area hit hard by the decline in the steel industry. In good news for the environment and for Ohioans, Rendell is in for some new competition from across the border. Ohio’s newly elected governor, Ted Strickland, is committed to expanding the clean energy options in his state, knowing that embracing this technology will help wean his state off oil and create new jobs. The Apollo Alliance, a broad coalition that advocates for clean energy, estimates that additional investments in manufacturing of wind and solar power components at existing factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could create 65,000 new jobs in those states alone — proof positive that fighting global warming is good for both the environment and the economy. Mayors across the country are also banding together to fight global warming. The Sierra Club’s Cool Cities program has enlisted more than 300 mayors in 48 states to sign on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, essentially agreeing to abide by the Kyoto Protocol in their cities. By using hybrids and other energy-efficient vehicles in city fleets, purchasing renewable energy, and upgrading the efficiency of city buildings, these cities are reducing their carbon emissions and saving taxpayer money at the same time. Scientists warn that the world is perilously close to a tipping point on global warming. What all this action in the states tells us that Americans are also close to a political tipping point. Comprehensive legislation on global warming may have to wait for a new administration. But members of Congress should be able to lay the much-needed groundwork now. Democrats and Republicans can agree on such key first steps as national renewable-portfolio standards and greater incentives for energy efficiency in the next Congress.
Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental group with national headquarters in San Francisco.

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