Back in 2003, the Bush administration sent a negotiating team to Milan for international climate talks. The lead negotiator, then as now, was Harlan Watson. As he always does, Watson attempted to claim that the U.S. was, despite all appearances, taking a leadership role in the fight against global warming.

What did he offer as evidence? Take it away, Harlan:

Finally, I would like to highlight the efforts being made by State and local governments in the United States to address climate change. Geographically, the United States encompasses vast and diverse climatic zones representative of all major regions of the world — polar, temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical — with different heating, cooling, and transportation needs and with different energy endowments. Such diversity allows our State and local governments to act as laboratories where new and creative ideas and methods can be applied and shared with others and inform federal policy — a truly bottom-up approach to addressing global climate change.

At the State level, 40 of our 50 States have prepared GHG inventories, 27 States have completed climate change action plans, and 8 States have adopted voluntary GHG emissions goals. In addition, 13 States have adopted “Renewable Portfolio Standards” requiring electricity generators to gradually increase the portion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy. And, at the local level, more than 140 local governments participating in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign are developing cost-effective GHG reduction plans, setting goals, and reducing GHG emissions.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

(hat tip: this Andy Revkin story via this Andy Revkin post)

So, states are policy laboratories that "inform federal policy." Ironic, in light of the fact that since Watson delivered those words, Bush and his allies in Congress have steadfastly rejected the "new and creative ideas and methods" implemented at the state level. They fought efforts to get a mandatory nationwide GHG inventory in the energy bill; they still have no comprehensive plan to address climate change; they moved heaven and earth to keep a Renewable Portfolio Standard out of the energy bill; and they have set no goals for reducing emissions.

Today, as the coup de grace, the Bush EPA denied California — our greatest national "laboratory" for climate policy — the right to implement its own emission reduction policy. In doing so, EPA chief Stephen Johnson explicitly rejected diversity, calling the move from one fuel economy standard to two a "confusing patchwork" that would befuddle the poor automakers.

When it was a good excuse for the lack of federal action, the Bush administration lauded state initiative. But when it actually threatened one of their corporate contributors, they shut it down. Such is the Republican commitment to federalism.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!