02/22/2006 08:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

States' Righteousness

When Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell announced that his state would join 11 others and Canada in insisting that cars sold within its borders meet modern emission-control standards for all pollutants, including carbon dioxide, the auto industry fought back. They crafted legislative proposals in both houses of the state legislature that would have blocked adoption of the California clean car standards in the state. Environmentalists, churches, and civic groups fought back.

In the end, the dinosaurs failed. After the Sierra Club and other groups joined in an intense grass roots and media effort, support for clean cars mounted, Although the bill passed the State Senate, it was by a narrow margin of 27-20, easily enough for the Governor to sustain a veto -- and the bill is unlikely to pass the Assembly given this fact.

Further west, in another victory for public health and common sense, yet another Republican Governor, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, has abandoned the Bush administration's backward-looking approach to energy policy. Pawlenty joined Illinois's Rod Blagojevich in rejecting President Bush's proposal to allow power plants to pour three times as much mercury as a modern, well-controlled facility should into the atmosphere indefinitely. Pawlenty supported legislation that would clean up 90 percent of the mercury pollution -- but failed to order his pollution control officials to use their existing authority to accomplish this goal. But having admitted that the 90 percent goal is both feasible and urgently needed, the Governor is likely to find that he has, intentionally or not, put his state on the fast track to cleaning up its mercury problem -- a problem that's now so severe that in the Land of 10,000 lakes not one has been found that supports fish stocks free from toxic contamination.

And a few weeks ago, after a Sierra Club "Bike against Bad Air" campaign, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he'd filed suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority, seeking to significantly reduce pollution from the utility's 59 units at 11 coal-fired power plants in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. Citing grim statistics about the effect of pollution on public health, Mr. Cooper said that legal action was a last resort, but that the TVA must be forced to do the right thing because air pollution is making North Carolinians sick. (North Carolina has already required its own power plants to clean up.)

What's most interesting about all this pro-environmental activity in the states is that it isn't confined, or even concentrated, in liberal states with liberal governors. Although it is happening in places like Vermont, New Jersey, and Illinois, it actually seems to be concentrated in more conservative states with Democratic Governors (Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania), and in more liberal states with Republican Governors (Massachusetts, New York, California, Minnesota).