August 14, 2008

A Southern Strategy for a New Reality

Virginia has an energy plan and a commission on climate change. Ideally, they would plug in to a national strategy to address both, if only the U.S. had a strategy.

The leadership vacuum in Washington has left it to the states to take what initiative they can. Now Gov. Tim Kaine wants Southern states to develop a regional plan to ensure adequate, affordable energy and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint left by burning fossil fuels.

Southern states should make haste slowly -- since slowly appears to be the maximum speed possible. Rational energy and climate- change policies are long overdue.

Kaine, the incoming chairman of the Southern Governors' Association, suggested the regional approach Monday, the closing day of an association conference. He noted that each of the 16 member states has or is working on plans to deal with the dual issues of energy and climate change.

Together, the states could present a united front in Washington, he said, "as the federal framework is being hammered out." After all, the other three regional governors' associations in the nation all have regional climate initiatives. Whatever special concerns the South might have -- say, in researching clean-coal technology -- should be on the table, too. Kaine said 57 percent of the nation's fossil fuels come from Southern states.

But if the South wants to be an actor, rather than a spectator, in developing solutions to the nation's energy and climate-change woes, its governors need to step up their interest.

Kaine merely proposed opening regional talks about how to achieve energy independence and mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuels. Specific goals, and timetables and strategies for meeting them, will have to be set by consensus. Kaine is hoping the governors can meet quarterly over the next year to develop a regional initiative.

That would be a challenge across a region with some shared interests and characteristics, but as different in geography and resources as Texas and Virginia, Missouri and the Virgin Islands.

Still, the governors should be searching for common ground to put the South at the vanguard of the energy revolution. That revolution cannot be ignored or stopped, not for long. This summer's spike in gasoline prices foreshadows things to come.

The region needs a Southern strategy that is about politics only as it affects good policymaking in an area of critical economic and environmental concern to all.

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