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06/16/2006 States Take Action on Global Warming




Thursday, June 15, 2006

Growing-Economy

Western Governors Demand Action on Global Warming

The Western Governors Association on Sunday acknowledged an inconvenient truth. The bipartisan group of Governors from West Coast, Rocky Mountain, and Great Plains states came together to unanimously pass a resolution (PDF) that says that global warming is real, at least partially human-caused, and that now is a time for action.

Although criticized by some for lacking much in the way of details, the three-page resolution highlights the scientific reality of warming and the harm it poses to the West:

In recent years, the West has experienced very significant droughts across much of the region, reduced snow pack, altered precipitation patterns, severe forest and rangeland fires, warmer temperatures and forest diseases. Climate change and variability have contributed to these impacts. Although specific impacts are not fully predictable, climate change could have severe economic and environmental impacts on the West in coming decades, including effects on agriculture and tourism, infrastructure (including dams, roads, water and sewer), loss of coastal areas, changed fisheries and wildlife, water shortages, storm impacts, and soil erosion.

And while Big Oil has attempted repeatedly to frighten the public into believing that fighting warming will weaken our economy, the Western Governors dispell this pernicious myth. The strength of the wording is even more significant, given the amount of natural resource development that still occurs in the West:

Appropriate action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these actions could create significant economic benefit for the West, if the United States moves toward new energy sources and technologies that prefer domestic energy and carbon sequestration. The opportunities to deploy clean and renewable energy and energy efficiency are abundant in the West and may economically and environmentally benefit states by increasing energy efficiency, improving air quality, saving costs, providing jobs, increasing revenues, and reducing water pollution.

While this resolution may have been short on policy specifics, two other resolutions, one on Clean and Diversified Energy for the West (PDF) and one on Transportation Fuels for the Future (PDF) provide more details on the Western vision to fight global warming while creating long-term economic development opportunities for both the new urban west and the rural areas.

Already, the bipartisan effort in the West is receiving well-earned accolades. The Tucson Citizen declared the resolution, "a refreshingly bipartisan rebuke to the administration's continued denial of global warming."

More Resources

Strengthening-Communities

Institutional Investors, Including State Funds, Demand Disclosure on Financial Risks from Climate Change

Companies are required to calculate the risks to their businesses based on a range of potential threats to their business models, but there is currently no requirement that they calculate the potentially catastrophic costs of climate change. A few U.S. companies do so voluntarily, but most do not.

However, in a letter to Chrisopher Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 27 institutional investors, including ten state officials with responsibility for overseeing risks to public employee pension funds, called on the SEC to require all publicly-traded companies to disclose the financial risks of global warming in their securities filings:

"Shareholders deserve to know if the companies they own are going down the prudent path ”“ adopting environmental practices that will enable them to thrive in a world of increasing environmental concern and regulation ”“ or whether they are following a path that will damage both our environment and our bottom line," said California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a trustee of two of the nation’s largest public pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, which collectively manage about $400 billion in assets.

A number of state fiduciaries who signed the letter have also been pushing companies through shareholder resolutions to disclose more on how they plan to respond to the risks of climate change-- a strategy that had led more than a dozen electric power companies, along with a few auto and oil firms, to publish reports on their financial exposure from new regulations and other climate-related risks.

In response to this shareholder pressure and general public education efforts, forty companies, including Boeing, IBM and John Hancock, have joined a business council organized by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, part of a growing chorus of the business community that are promoting the need to change business and government practices to deal with the crisis of climate change.

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Valuing-Families

More on Defining Down Health Care

The Washington Post details some of the changes states are making in the Medicaid program, party based on federal waivers and partly due to a new federal law passed last December that allows states to offer unequal benefits to different Medicaid recipients.

As we detailed a few weeks ago, many changes are cutting benefits for recipients but what ties most of them together is handing more control over to private insurance companies, a campaign that the Post notes is backed by corporate-funded think tanks:

The focus on private-sector insurance and self-reliance is favored by conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Health Transformation, which was founded three years ago by former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

While such programs are great for insurance company profits, health care advocates like Families USA have detailed the downside for Medicaid recipients:

  • Families often don't receive the services that would be covered if directly enrolled in Medicaid of SCHIP programs (the program for expanding coverage for children).
  • Families are often billed for out-of-pocket costs that Medicaid or SCHIP normally cover.
  • Families are denied access to traditional consumer protections under Medicaid, instead being subject to often-abusive grievance procedures established by private insurers.

Families USA has a few guidelines for advocates in states considering mixing private insurers into the Medicaid system:

  • Make Participation Optional: Beneficiaries should always have the option to choose regular Medicaid or SCHIP programs.
  • Extend Full Benefits to Those in Private Plans: Ensure that expenses not paid for by private insurers that would normally be paid by Medicaid or SCHIP are covered for those using privatized plans.
  • Establish Minimum Benefit Standards: Only subsidize plans that provide a broad range of coverage like traditional Medicaid and SCHIP.
  • Extend Medicaid/SCHIP Grievance and Appeals Process: Families covered by Medicaid and SCHIP should have access to the same grievance systems, whether they receive services through traditional programs or new privatized plans.

An Additional Burden for States: To make matters worse for states, the Bush administration is proposing a new federal regulation would further restrict their ability to tax health care providers to fund Medicaid programs, a funding source for two thirds of the states. Right now, private health providers can be taxed up to 6% of their gross revenues as part of a state's share of the costs of Medicaid. The new proposed rule would cut that in half, restricting the state share of revenue to no more than a 3% tax on providers-- a plan that would reduce federal Medicaid funds for states by $5.5 billion over the next decade.

More Resources

Research-Roundup

Worker Exploitation in Katrina's Aftermath, Corporate Subsidies, and the Consequences of the Geographic Concentration of Poverty

Human misery for some is a business opportunity for others, especially if those businsesses are willing to abuse workers they employ, as a new study, Rebuilding After Katrina, details. According to the study by the Payson Center at Tulane, large numbers of workers engaged in the rebuilding lacked needed protective safety equipment, were paid less than promised by contractors, and most had no medical insurance.

In Subsidies in the News, Good Jobs First highlights some of the big tax subsidies used by states to try to lure companies to their states, highlighting how states are pitted against each other in bidding away tax revenue in the scramble to attract new business plants.

At the US Conference of Mayors, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution highlighted the concentration of 40% of the nation's poor within 2,500 high-poverty neighborhoods. Unfortunately, racial discrimination and a lack of affordable housing in suburban areas prevents inner-city residents from reaching jobs available outside those neighborhoods.

Western Governors Demand Action on Global Warming

Western Governors Association, "Resolution: Regional and National Policies Regarding Global Climate Change"
WGA, "Resolution: Clean and Diversified Energy for the West"
WGA, "Resolution: Transportation Fuels for the Future"
WGA, "Report: Clean Energy, a Strong Economy and a Healthy Environment"
Apollo Alliance, Apollo in the States

Institutional Investors, Including State Funds, Demand Disclosure on Financial Risks from Climate Change

CERES: Investors and Environmnentalists for Sustainable Prosperity
CERES, Press Release on Letter to SEC
Investor Network on Climate Risk
USA Today, Corporate America warms to fight against global warming
Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Business Leadership Council

More on Defining Down Health Care

Families USA: Waiver Tool Box
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Health Policy Analyses
CBPP: Administration Medicaid Rule Would Put Pressure on States to Reduce Benefits
Kaiser Family Foundation: Medicaid/SCHIP Waivers

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Eye on the Right

Special interests based in Illinois and Washington, D.C., are attempting to pass a ballot initiative in Oregon to cap state spending in a fashion similar to Colorado's own disastrous spending cap. Those special interests -- one of which has ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- are refusing to reveal their financial backers. This news comes shortly after a similar effort in Montana also refused to reveal its financial supporters. The Montana effort also has faced repeated accusations of knowingly misleading voters into signing their far-right initiatives.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch