Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shared Goal; Differences of Approach.

Below is a statement I presented over 10 years ago. While I would make some editorial nods towards recent achievements, (the RPS, increases in biofuels and greater emphasis on energy efficiency), I still firmly agree with this statement. Climate change is real; human emissions are the cause; and we need a fair and comprehensive approach that will actually reduce GHGs. Any criticism offered in these postings should not be interpreted as changes to my long-held beliefs or a wavering of my commitment to address GHGs; rather they stem from legitimate differences of opinion for how to craft a fair comprehensive approach that will effectively, efficiently and economically reduce GHGs around the world, across the nation and here in Minnesota.


Thursday, December 17, 1998

Although there are uncertainties, climate change poses a real environmental threat and raises very important long-range public policy issues for Minnesota that will not go away. Therefore, it is in Minnesota’s best interest to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to proactively address the issue.

Before I proceed, I have to make two disclaimers. First, although I am Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the opinions I express today are my own. They do not reflect the views or opinions of the Commission or anyone else for that matter. Second, nothing I say today should be construed in any way and by any party as an indication of how I may decide any matter that is before or could come before the Commission.

I accept conventional scientific thinking that the climate change issue is a real environmental threat. The concentration of atmospheric CO2 is increasing. Increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 is likely to change the world’s climate posing a significant threat to Minnesota, the United States and the global community. Having said that, I recognize that there are many important unanswered questions: How much will the climate change? How fast could such change occur? What will be the impact of that change? Can we see such change today? How significant are human actions in causing such change?

Although no one can answer these questions with great certainty, there does appear to be a correlation between increased CO2 concentrations and human industrialization. This correlation by itself leads me to conclude that the responsible thing to do is to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions. Minnesotans contribute to the problem and will be adversely affected by a changing climate. Therefore, it is in our best interest to thoughtfully and proactively reduce our CO2 emissions in ways that do not unilaterally disadvantage us.

Besides the environmental threat posed by increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations, there is another reason for Minnesota to be proactive on this issue: it is likely that Minnesota will face the imposition of international and national CO2 reduction regulations in the not too distant future. In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 154 countries, including the United States, recognized (and now 175 countries recognize) the threat posed by increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to the Earth’s climate. They agreed to pursue voluntary reductions of CO2 emissions. After several intervening meetings, they went a step further a year ago in Kyoto, Japan. The Kyoto Protocol, which the US signed during the Buenos Aires Convention this past November, creates an international framework for mandatory CO2 emission reductions for developed countries. Under this framework, the United States agreed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 7% from 1990 levels during the 2008 to 2012 time period.

I attended last month’s Buenos Aires Convention representing the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. The primary agenda of that convention was to address the Kyoto Protocol’s flaws and resolve its many implementation issues. The lack of CO2 reduction commitments by developing countries, like China, is a major flaw of the Kyoto Protocol. The diplomats tried to address this issue but achieved little if any direct progress. However, there was a lot of maneuvering and discussion between the countries, led by Argentina, giving me hope that the stalemate can be broken.

As for implementation, the diplomats spent many hours trying to agree on how to implement CO2 trading and other flexibility measures. Such flexibility is needed to minimize the costs of CO2 reductions. Again, due to international politics there was little direct progress. However, the conferees did agree on a workplan with results to be brought forward in October 2000.

Although there was little formal progress in Buenos Aires, we should take note that the on-going international stalemate is over how to develop and implement CO2 reduction efforts, not whether we need to do so. The science of climate change was not questioned.

This observation makes clear to me that we Minnesotans ought not be ostriches hiding our head in the sand hoping that the climate change issue will go away. It will not; the issue and its ramifications will only grow. Therefore, it makes sense for Minnesota to get ahead of the curve and control our future by developing a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to proactively address the climate change issue. New Jersey and Oregon have done so. So have a number of major Minnesota companies. We should too.

In making this recommendation, I do not believe that Minnesota can solve this global problem by itself. Nor do I think that we should try and thereby shoot ourselves in the foot economically. But, in small ways, we can lessen the environmental threat and prepare ourselves for what is to come.

In developing a proactive plan, it ought to be comprehensive, thoughtful and deliberative. Because everyone uses energy and thereby contributes to the problem, everyone must be made part of the solution. Accordingly, an inclusive process that assures that all interested people can and do participate is needed. Also, no one industry or economic sector should bear the costs of addressing this threat by themselves. The costs of CO2 reduction should to be borne fairly by all.

We need to be mindful of the uncertainties and make sure that whatever steps we take do not unilaterally disadvantage us. We cannot solve this problem overnight and it is counterproductive to try. Today’s solutions should not become tomorrow’s problems. Similarly, we must think creatively. It will probably take new and different ways of doing things to address this issue.

Finally, we must be proactive. We must set goals and take action by pursuing the low hanging fruit while simultaneously planting trees--both figuratively and literally speaking--so we can reap them as they mature in the future. Here are just a few ideas that come to my mind: devising ways to assure that companies that reduce their CO2 emissions receive credit for their good work; striving to achieve even more energy efficiencies; examining our tax structure to find ways to promote capital stock turnover; continuing to use and promote low or no-CO2 emitting energy sources; managing our forest and agricultural lands for carbon sink potential; and finally examining our regulations to make sure that they do not work at cross purposes or unnecessarily add costs.

Although reducing CO2 emissions is key, the cure must not be worse than the illness. We must not take actions that would unilaterally disadvantage our citizenry or industries. Instead, we should focus on flexible market-based measures that strengthens the state’s economy both today and tomorrow.

To conclude, climate change is a real environmental threat posing difficult public policy choices. The sooner we develop a thoughtful comprehensive plan that identifies those policy choices and proactively implements them, the better off Minnesota will be. Thank you for this opportunity to address you today.

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