Editorial: Governor takes middle road

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke in San Francisco on Tuesday, using the visit to promote his new drive to limit the gases believed to be partly responsible for global warming.

The governor’s new emissions initiative targets the release of carbon dioxide and other gases by companies, and seeks to create financial incentives to meet ambitious reduction goals. California is among the world’s biggest sources of so-called greenhouse gases, and the largest share of the state’s emissions comes from cars — a source estimated to be roughly twice as great as emissions from either power plants or industrial sources. In 2004, the state enacted tough rules on auto emissions, starting with the 2009 model year.

Advocates of reducing greenhouse gases say that global warming could adversely affect agriculture and tourism, and threaten the coastline, along with other potential impacts.

The goals Schwarzenegger laid out represent a tough standard for U.S. states, but they aren’t as strict as the Kyoto Protocol, which the president has refused to sign out of concern for a possible loss of jobs and other economic impacts. Where the governor’s plan calls for greenhouse emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, the Kyoto target is 2010. Schwarzenegger seeks to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Despite the goals, the governor apparently has declined to place hard caps on emissions for now. While environmentalists already are objecting, this may be the most prudent course until the reaction of California industries can be assessed. If industries decided to leave the state for less-regulated parts of the country — or another country — they not only would keep producing the targeted gases at current levels or higher, but they also would take jobs with them. That wouldn’t help anyone in California.

The governor’s plan is unlikely to fully satisfy either environmentalists or business advocates, and in fact runs the risk of actively displeasing both sides. But keep in mind, Schwarzenegger didn’t have to do any of this. He could have let California continue on its current course — a much safer, if less ambitious choice — instead of taking the risk of both disappointing environmentalists and angering business supporters.

Many concerns remain regarding the governor’s plan, including the possibility that businesses could move elsewhere to avoid emissions caps. However, instead of keeping his head down, the governor chose to tackle a complex matter of great importance to many Californians, pick a goal he thought was achievable and do his best to move the state toward that goal. That’s called leadership, and Schwarzenegger deserves credit for demonstrating it.

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