US governors from the western states of California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico agreed at the National Governors Association annual conference in Washington, DC, in February to cut their states’ levels of greenhouse gases and to establish a regional carbon-trading system. This stricter standard focuses on curbing emissions from automobiles and power plants.

In the same week, governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Janet Napolitano of Arizona also addressed the National Press Club on cross-border issues regarding environmental policies and immigration that directly and indirectly impact both states.

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The governors’ pledge to set a regional target for lower emissions by August 2007 includes a plan to devise a regional cap-and-trade system a year later that will allow polluters to buy and sell greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution credits.

Federal lack

“In the absence of meaningful federal action, it is up to the states to take action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country,” said Ms Napolitano.

A signed memorandum of understanding commits the governors to finding clean energy technology and market-based solutions on greenhouse gas emissions.

“It sends a message and makes other states interested in forming partnerships,” Mr Schwarzenegger said. “We formed partnerships with nine north-eastern states, for instance, to do a cap-and-trade programme, which means that we will also have a trading mechanism.”

He believes that California’s role in the pact sends a powerful message around the world. In January, he established California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard by executive order. This groundbreaking action requires that the carbon intensity of transportation fuels sold in California be reduced by at least 10% by 2020.

Transportation accounts for 40% of California’s GHG emissions. The new standard would reduce GHG emissions by more than 13 million tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road.

Mr Schwarzenegger maintains that instead of dictating strategies to fuel providers, California’s standard allows providers and consumers to determine the best way to achieve low-carbon emissions through the normal market process of supply and demand. It would also triple the size of the state’s renewable fuels market and place more than seven million alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles on California’s roads – 20 times more than the present figure.

Mr Schwarzenegger’s action set the stage for the EU, which announced later that month a new pollution standard for motor fuels that closely mirrors his executive order. The EU standard will cut emissions by 500 million metric tons of carbon by 2020, equivalent to the total combined emissions of Spain and Sweden today.

The governor also called for a national low carbon fuel standard, and said such a standard would reduce the US dependence on foreign oil. Like California, the nation is too dependent on a single, unstable energy supply, he said.

“California relies on petroleum-based fuels for an overwhelming 96% of our transportation needs,” he stated. “America relies on petroleum for 97%.”

To date, more than a dozen states have established GHG reduction targets that impose tougher fuel economy standards than that of the federal government. They are Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

Now the states, led by California, are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to issue them waivers to set the stricter standards. The effort is being opposed by the automobile industry and utilities that see a proliferation of state-by-state regulations unravelling.

The dispute could end up in the hands of legislators, where Congress would have to address the issue of comprehensive federal regulations.

Immigration reform

 

During the Press Club event, both governors outlined the impact that illegal immigrants are having on Arizona and California. In Arizona, their additional numbers in hospitals, the criminal justice system and prisons have cost Arizona taxpayers upwards of $350m.

According to Ms Napolitano, in 2006, in any 24-hour period, an estimated 4000 immigrants cross illegally into Arizona. With many human smugglers relying on stolen cars to transport the illegal immigrants, the governor directed Arizona’s highway patrol to station high-tech and mobile cameras on south-bound traffic lanes to Mexico and use advanced license plate reader technology.

“This vastly improves our ability to detect the stolen vehicles used by the human smugglers,” she said.

Most important, the state has entered into separate law enforcement agreements with the governor of Sonora, the Mexican state bordering Arizona.

“Governor Bours and I also work together in developing mutual security plans, modernising our ports of entry and improving our transportation corridors,” she added.

And while illegal immigration hogs the headlines, legal immigration has a positive impact on the US, particularly in attracting world-class scientists and engineers.

“Yet restrictions on our H-1B visas force foreign students in vital areas such as engineering and medicine – who have trained here – to use their talents elsewhere,” said Ms Napolitano.

Crucial workers

 

Mexican workers are especially important to California’s agricultural business. “As soon as we sent 1000 troops to the borders in California, immediately the farmers came to me and said, ‘You know, now there’s 26% less crossings and I have spoiled crops on my ground and no one to pick them. I’m losing millions of dollars’,” said Mr Schwarzenegger.

He promotes a policy of secured borders with a guest workers programme and granting citizenship to those already in the US who meet certain criteria. Ms Napolitano proposes the use of innovative, technology-driven border control between the ports of entry.

“We can incentivise innovative technologies here that can be used by our Department of Defense for our own security needs or indeed marketed around the world,” she added.

The governor calls for fundamentally reforming the visa system and streamlining the visa process, establishing a temporary worker programme with no amnesty, holding employers who know they are hiring illegal immigrants accountable and penalising them, modernising border infrastructure, and creating a strict pathway to citizenship. She also stated that improvements to Mexico’s standard of living through trade, economic development and capital investment are paramount.