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Emissions plan called less costly than inaction

Environmental Quality chief defends multistate pact

PHOENIX – Arizona’s participation in a regional pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be much less costly than opponents contend, and it would be tiny compared to the cost of not responding aggressively to climate change, the head of the state Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday.

“People talk about sacrifices, they talk about impact, they talk about people paying more,” Steve Owens said in an interview with Cronkite News Service. “You haven’t seen significant costs until you see what might happen 40 or 50 years from now if we don’t do something now to control greenhouse gas emissions.”

Arizona, six other states and four Canadian provinces that are part of the Western Climate Initiative last week unveiled a plan to cut their greenhouse emissions by 2020 to 15 percent below 2005 levels. It includes a cap on emissions that decreases over time and a system allowing utilities and other businesses to trade pollution rights or offset emissions through actions such as planting trees.

Owens said it’s incorrect for consumers to assume that the plan would cause their electric bills to spike, and he blamed utilities for creating that impression.

“Every time we start to do something that asks the utilities to limit the amount of pollution, they run around and claim that it’s going to cause utility rates to go through the roof and they’re not going to be able to keep the lights on,” Owens said. “It’s kind of the same old same old when you talk to them.”

Richard Hayslip, associate general manager for the Salt River Project, said utilities try to provide honest appraisals of the impact of such plans. He said the Western Climate Initiative plan definitely would cost ratepayers more.

“Anyone who thinks a program that isn’t carefully crafted like the Western Climate Initiative isn’t going to impact consumers is naive,” Hayslip said.

Owens, who is co-chair of the Western Climate Initiative, said members of the group are optimistic that the impact on consumers would be minimal, in part because businesses would look for ways to reduce emissions at lower costs and help consumers use less energy.

“I really do believe that at the end of the day, once this program is implemented, you’re not going to see significant price increases,” Owens said. “You’re just not going to have that and the utilities and consumers and others are going to find much more cost-effective and cheaper ways to comply with this program.”

Owens said climate change, which most scientists say is caused in large part by greenhouse gases, already is affecting Arizona in the form of higher temperatures and prolonged drought. Those changes will force Arizonans to pay more for air conditioning and to pay to import water from other areas, he said.

Owens said states that fall behind on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are going to be at a disadvantage because they will have to make greater cuts much more quickly in the future.

“I don’t think anybody can dispute the fact that in the United States there will at some point be regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and there will be reductions in greenhouse gases emissions mandated by the federal government,” Owens said.

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On the Web

Western Climate Initiative:

www.westernclimateinitiative.org

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality:

www.azdeq.gov

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QUICK FACTS

Background on the Western Climate Initiative:

• Launched in February 2007 by Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. Utah, Montana and four Canadian provinces have since joined.

• Thirteen other U.S. and Mexican states are officially observing the WCI’s actions.

• The group announced a plan last week to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 15 percent below 2005 levels.

• The plan’s centerpiece is a cap-and-trade system that includes a limit on emissions that decreases over time and a system that allows utilities and other businesses to trade pollution rights or offset emissions through actions such as planting trees.

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