Arkansas Legislature Rebuffs Global Warming Mandates

Published July 1, 2009

The Arkansas General Assembly has rebuffed the vast majority of recommendations from the Arkansas Governor’s Commission on Global Warming. The legislature held hearings and then enacted very few global warming programs before adjourning for the year.

The most significant of the shunned bills would have mandated reductions of greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2000 levels by the year 2020, 35 percent below 2000 levels by 2025, and 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2035. The governor’s commission had recommended the mandatory reductions as one of 54 specific global warming recommendations that had been included in dozens of proposed bills.

Multitude of Bills Rejected

“We counted about 30 bills that were filed related to climate change,” said Kenny Hall, executive vice president of the state’s Chamber of Commerce. “I’m not an expert on climate change, but most of them carried a significant cost to consumers.”

The commission proposed everything from studying the feasibility of plug-in vehicles and developing renewable fuels to adding energy saving standards to building codes and promoting “environment-friendly” farming practices. One especially costly bill would have placed a tariff on utility companies, Hall said.

“That had the potential to really raise the cost of electricity for consumers,” Hall noted.

Columnist Made a Difference

The commission’s recommendations initially seemed on a fast track toward passage. A bill in 2007 establishing the commission and directing its members to create a “global warming pollutant reduction goal and comprehensive strategic plan” received substantial support and was signed into law that March. By April 2009, however, legislative support had severely dissipated.

A key to the general assembly’s growing skepticism, according to Hall, “was a columnist down here; he covered this issue pretty well, and … I think that had a pretty dramatic impact on the General Assembly.”

The columnist, David Sanders of the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, discovered a national special-interest environmental group—the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS)—had exerted undue influence on members of the commission. The 54 policy recommendations were steeped in activist ideology, Sanders reported.

The Center for Climate Strategies was a key player in the establishment of the commission. Once that occurred, “CCS then got itself hired to direct it,” Sanders reported in one of his columns.

The mission of CCS is to “go into these states and then they say the federal government is not living up to environmentalism and we need states to take control of the agenda,” Sanders said in an interview for this story. “Where the dishonesty comes in is where they claim they gather all these stakeholders together and use their involvement as a point of legitimacy, when really they are pushing an agenda.”

No Debate Allowed

One key red flag, Sanders reported, is that CCS wouldn’t allow commission members to debate the science of climate change. Instead, all policy recommendations had to flow from the assumption that alarmists’ predictions are true and controversial modeling programs predicting dramatic changes in the Earth’s atmosphere are irrefutable.

“Its internal memos showed that its policies and procedures limited the group of so-called ‘stakeholders’ from debating the science of global warming or even the intent of the law establishing [the commission],” Sanders wrote of CCS in an April 19 column.

Absent Sanders’ reports, the general assembly might have simply rubber-stamped the commission’s recommendations, unaware of the behind-the-scenes influence of the out-of-state group.

“Nobody was writing about it,” Sanders says. “Nobody knew. In the end, specific to the recommendations of the governor’s council, only two of their babies passed. But none of the items that could potentially be the most damaging to the economy—like mandating utility companies derive a certain percentage from renewable resources—passed. Cap and trade did not pass.”

The Science and Public Policy Institute helped out as well, producing a 20-page report showing global warming was having a negligible impact on Arkansas.

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 journalism fellow with The Phillips Foundation.

For more information …

Observed Climate Change and the Negligible Global Effect of Greenhouse-Gas Emission Limits in the State of Arkansas, Science and Public Policy Institute: