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Ark. panel suggests plan to reduce global warming

Oct 23, 2008 - By Peggy Harris - The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Governor's Commission on Global Warming has completed the state's first study on greenhouse gas emissions and arrived at 54 recommendations the panel says will help reverse global warming if everyone does their share.

The 21-member commission, created by state law last year, will submit its final report to Gov. Mike Beebe and legislators this month, but also is appealing to all Arkansans to adopt energy-efficient practices.

"The first thing that people in the state of Arkansas and their leaders need to keep in mind is that climate change is and will strongly affect their lives," says commission co-chairman Kevin Smith, a former state legislator from Stuttgart. "If you look 50 years out, the consequences are almost dire."

Commission members considered more than 300 measures before coming up with the final recommendations - from "sequestration" technology at coal-fired power plants to the use of fluorescent light bulbs.

Made up of representatives from the power industry, forestry, science, environmental advocacy, and government, the panel was strongly divided on some issues and did not give unanimous support to each of the 54 recommendations.

Some commissioners wanted assurances in a teleconference Thursday that the minority views be included in the final report. Commissioner Steve Cousins, vice president of refining for Lion Oil Company, said the panel includes "at least three agnostics," who doubt that human activity is largely to blame for global warming.

The final report will be posted Oct. 30 on the commission's Web site.

Co-chairwoman Kathy Webb of Little Rock, a state legislator, says the commission work presents a starting point for everyone in Arkansas to do their share in solving a problem that has no geographic or political boundaries. It also prepares Arkansas to engage in debates at the federal level when the issue gains importance, as expected, after a new president takes office, she said.

Arkansas contributes about 1 percent of the national total of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, according to the nonprofit Center for Climate Strategies that conducted studies for the commission.

The commission recommends Arkansas reduce its greenhouse gas emissions below 2000 levels by 20 percent by 2020, 35 percent by 2025, and 50 percent by 2035. The result, if other states do their parts, would return the climate to stable levels currently recognized by the scientific community, according to the center.

"One has to look at the bigger picture," Webb says. "When you look at everybody's one percent and two percent and five percent, that's what adds up to the total. Just because ours is smaller doesn't mean that we don't contribute to the problem and can't contribute to the solution."

In Arkansas, as in other states, electricity production and consumption along with the everyday use of cars and trucks are the major contributors to global warming. But Arkansas' extensive forests act as a "carbon sink," absorbing some of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each day. The commission recommendations are aimed at every sector that can add or subtract to this bigger picture.

Among the recommendations are an endorsement of nuclear power, a ban on new coal-fired power plants until technology is available to capture and bury carbon emissions, a sales tax exemption on the purchase of energy-efficient household appliances, the conversion of municipal solid waste into heat, steam or electricity, a study on converting government vehicles to plug-in electric hybrids, the reforestation of marginal farmland, and the use of electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal, biogas or hydropower.

Other recommendations include the establishment of a center to monitor the effects of climate change on Arkansans, a requirement that electric companies supply a percentage of electricity from renewable energy sources, rebates for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles, tax incentives for businesses to develop renewable energy systems, energy audits for homeowners, and energy-conservation programs for low-income Arkansans.

The center looked at the cost to implement 29 of the 54 recommendations, and estimated it at $3.7 billion over 17 years.

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Updated: 2003/07/28