President George W. Bush has consistently opposed federal caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, a policy position many environmentalists say contributes to global warming and is an embarrassment to the United States around the world. But Bush is not the country's only politician with executive power. State governors are increasingly taking the matter of climate change into their own hands, many pushing legislation that mirrors the international Kyoto Protocol-the very kind of top-down restrictions Bush rejects.
In more than a dozen states, special governor-commissioned advisory groups have completed climate-change action plans that include such measures as tightened vehicle emissions standards, investment in alternative fuels, government incentives for consumers and manufacturers to go green, strict limits on development in forested areas, and involvement in regional or national cap-and-trade programs. It's enough to make California look like Germany, where efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions have wrought significant economic damage, despite falling well short of targets.
Nevertheless, the stateside trend of following Europe's failures is spreading rapidly-and not only in Al Gore-enchanted quarters like California. Utah, Montana, and Virginia are among the more conservative states developing climate-change action plans. In all, 28 states have taken steps toward creating a top-down comprehensive strategy to mitigate global warming.
But the uniformity of language and policy directives invariably present in these respective strategies is no accident-nor is it merely the result of settled science and intuitive solutions, as propagators of climate-change hysteria might claim. In fact, behind almost every Kyoto-like policy proposal and governor-commissioned advisory panel stands a little-known national organization committed to subverting the Bush administration's resistance to hard caps on greenhouse-gas emissions-not that the group would ever admit as much.
The Center for Climate Strategies, a self-proclaimed nonpartisan policy center, insists that it maintains complete impartiality when working with state governors to develop policy proposals.
But even a cursory glance at the CCS website reveals underlying assumptions that are anything but impartial. Among its stated goals is to generate cadres of government advisors in every state that are "committed to a set of policies to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions." Even the group's slogan attests to its underlying belief that global warming demands tough action: "Helping states and the nation tackle climate change."
Without question, CCS operates under the assumptions that climate change is a problem worthy of considerable government response and that changes in human activity can alter the current warming trend. Such positions may represent the majority scientific view, but they ignore dissent from many credentialed scientists, who contend that moderate warming may actually benefit the planet and that human activity has little to do with natural climate cycles.
Nevertheless, CCS claims it "does not take positions on climate policy issues or legislation." In an interview with WORLD, CCS Executive Director Thomas Peterson objected to the very idea that his organization enters policy discussions with any particular stance on the issues at hand: "We absolutely do not have any preconceived notions. Our organization doesn't take positions on anything."
But the results of CCS actions seem to suggest otherwise. The organization operates by approaching state governors with an offer to educate and facilitate policy advisory groups to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help solve global warming. Should a governor accept that offer and appoint an advisory panel of interested parties within the state, CCS consultants then make directed presentations to the group, framing the discussion as though no dispute exists over the dire threat of manmade climate change-or the type of policy solutions that can fix it.
These advisory panels generally arrive at the same conclusions and submit roughly the same few dozen policy recommendations to the state's governor and legislature, characterizing their findings as "expert," "nonpartisan," and "consensus-based." Governors can then implement the proposals by executive order or seek to push bills through state legislatures.
Peterson says the widespread desire among state governors to partner with CCS springs out of a growing public demand for action on global warming. Indeed, even Republican governors are not immune from the pressure to go green. Mark Sanford in South Carolina and Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota are among the more surprising state executives to work with CCS. Pawlenty's office did not return WORLD's request for comment, but Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer tried to downplay the role of CCS in South Carolina's climate advisory committee.
"In our state, they're simply providing logistical support for the committee we put together," he said. "We didn't go into this with any preconceived notions or agenda. We certainly welcome this group's input and their perspective just as we welcome the input and perspective of power companies."
Part of the attraction to CCS is that its input and perspective come cheap. Because the organization raises significant funds through private grants and donations, state expenses for the process are very low. For example, Minnesota is paying CCS just $40,000 to direct the creation of its comprehensive climate strategy, which is about halfway complete. Other states, like South Carolina, consult with CCS free of charge.
At first blush, such modest reliance on public money seems beneficial, a welcome demonstration of fiscal restraint and sound economic policy. In fact, the absence of public funding for CCS services allows ideologically driven organizations to control the purse strings. Global-warming alarmist groups like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Turner Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and the Energy Foundation combine to pour millions of dollars into CCS projects.
Peterson insists that such funding sources should in no way impugn the credibility of CCS as an objective entity: "Our relationships with the private donor community are not contingent on our outcomes. We do not allow any of the funders to occupy a majority share of the donations. That structure of the funding process doesn't lend itself to any sorts of tilting of the field."
But the very fact that such ideologically uniform groups swarm to support CCS indicates the field is already tilted at the outset. Imagine if an organization funded by oil companies offered to direct state policies on alternative fuels. Yet CCS continues to operate with little scrutiny. Peterson said the group's funding sources have posed no problems in any state thus far. And he professed ignorance of any criticism of the center's operations.
At least one organization has taken issue with CCS. The conservative John Locke Foundation in North Carolina witnessed the group in action firsthand when it began developing a comprehensive climate strategy there in 2006. Paul Chesser, an associate editor for one of the foundation's publications, investigated the origins of CCS and discovered close connections
to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), a self-described "advocacy" agency that presses lawmakers to undertake such green initiatives as carbon sequestration and carbon-credit trading.
PEC founded Enterprising Environmental Solutions, Inc., which in turn operates CCS as one of its featured programs. Last year's EESI 990 tax form, obtained by WORLD, states that EESI "is controlled by PEC." In other words, a committed environmental advocacy group is calling the shots for the supposed impartial policy consultants at CCS. The 990 form further declares that EESI's mission is "to advance, support, and promote the purposes of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council."
What's more, three of EESI's four board members work for PEC, and PEC president Brian Hill functions as EESI secretary and treasurer. Chesser and other Locke Foundation critics contend that CCS might face greater difficulty building partnerships with state governors if it were more open about its origin.
Peterson contends CCS is entirely forthright about its mission and process. All the meetings it helps direct are open to the public and minutes are posted to government websites for public viewing. He dismissed any criticism from the John Locke Foundation as the product of sour grapes, since the foundation was unable to deter North Carolina from embracing the CCS process.
"We're not an advocacy organization that's pushing any particular solution," Peterson said, restating the group's party line. "We're a service organization that is here to help the states."