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US Democratic governors to participate in U.N. climate talks

by Mary Sewell

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — U.S. governors want a seat at the table as international leaders prepare to gather in Scotland at a critical moment for global efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions and slow the planet’s temperature rise. At least a half dozen state governors — all Democrats — plan to attend parts of the two-week United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, known as COP26. Though states aren’t official parties to talks, governors hold significant sway over the United States’ approach to tackling climate change by setting targets for reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy. Take California, where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to halt the sale of new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035, a move aimed at accelerating the nation’s transition to electric vehicles. Or Washington, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee backed legislation requiring the state’s electricity be carbon-neutral by 2030.


“Governors can do a lot,” said Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institute. “When they’re talking to people on the sidelines and sharing policies and ideas and helping to demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. as a whole, there’s quite a bit that they can do.” Governors slated to attend are Inslee, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Newsom announced Friday he would participate virtually due to unspecified family obligations. California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis will instead lead the state’s delegation, including more than a dozen lawmakers and top administration officials.

“All eyes will be on Glasgow, with the world asking the question: ‘What are we doing to do about (climate change)?'” Kounalakis said. “And California has answers. Few U.S. states are as influential as California, home to nearly 40 million people, and would be the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were its own nation. It’s led the nation in vehicle emissions standards, was the first state to launch a carbon pollution credit program known as cap-and-trade, and has set some of its most ambitious goals to reduce emissions. It’s the nation’s seventh-largest oil-producing state, though Newsom officials say it has six times as many jobs in clean energy as it does in the oil industry.

Newsom has made strides to lower demand and eventually end production, but some environmental groups say he’s got to act significantly faster. Several other state leaders heading to Glasgow also come from places that rely on oil and gas production as a critical economic piece. New Mexico’s Lujan Grisham travels to the climate conference as she juggles competing pressures from environmental activists and the fossil fuel industry while running for reelection in 2022. New Mexico is one of the top oil states. Amid surging oil output, Lujan Grisham has pushed to rein in leaks and emissions of excess natural gas by the industry and signed legislation that mandates and incentivizes New Mexico’s own transition to zero-emissions electricity by 2045.

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