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Old May 26th, 2007, 03:00 PM  
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Cool B.C.'s premier finds environmental soul mate in Schwarzenegger

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- It began last December with a phone call to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, seeking to burnish his Liberal government's image on the environment, rang up America's newest environmental guru to chat about ways California might co-operate with the province to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

Schwarzenegger took the call and instantly offered to help.

"He has been very generous," Campbell said in an interview with Canwest News Service in advance of Schwarzenegger's three-day visit to Canada next week.

"California has never said, 'This is ours. We are keeping it for ourselves.' There is a real generosity of spirit behind the governor's initiatives."

Within weeks of their first conversation, Schwarzenegger's senior environmental adviser was in B.C. to help Campbell craft a climate-change plan - unveiled in February -- that requires the province to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.

By March, Campbell was in California, working with Schwarzenegger on plans to create a system of "green ports" along the Pacific Coast and to build a network of hydrogen fuelling stations to promote the development of fuel-cell cars.

And just last month, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to join the Western Region Climate Action Initiative, a scheme to create a carbon trading market that would allow industrial polluters to reduce their emissions by buying carbon credits from greener companies.

"I think both the governor and I share the belief it is time for us to act," says Campbell. "Often we let institutional inertia hold us back. I wasn't willing to do that in British Columbia and he clearly wasn't willing to do that in California."

Schwarzenegger has already signed an agreement with Manitoba to collaborate on a future carbon trading system, and hopes to attract interest from several other provinces.

His first visit to Canada as governor will take him to Toronto, where he will speak Wednesday to the Economic Club of Canada, and to Ottawa for meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But it will be in meetings with Campbell in Vancouver on Thursday where the California governor is most likely to find his Canadian environmental soul mate.

While the Harper government's proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 has been criticized as too timid, B.C.'s more ambitious goals borrow much from Schwarzenegger's California template.

"There is clearly a desire amongst a lot of provinces in Canada to address this issue immediately," says Dan Skopec, a senior adviser to Schwarzenegger on environmental protection. "That is what California is doing here in the United States. We think we have a lot in common."

Schwarzenegger last year signed legislation -- considered the toughest in America -- requiring the state to cut emissions by 25 per cent by 2020, and by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

In a development all too familiar to British Columbia -- which is often alienated from Central Canada and the government in Ottawa -- California is locked in battle with the Bush administration over a request for authority to impose tougher greenhouse gas emissions on tailpipe standards for vehicles in the state.

Campbell sees a natural regional alliance on climate change between B.C., California and other Pacific states, including Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

"I think there is a culture of environmental stewardship in the Pacific, which is something we can share with the rest of the continent," says Campbell.

"When I met with the governor, one of the things he pointed out was when we work together, we create momentum ourselves. We pull things maybe in our direction, as opposed to pulling things in the old direction, which is toward the Atlantic."

Part of the reason Schwarzenegger is taking his environmental crusade out of country to places like Canada is to show foreign leaders the U.S. is serious about fighting global warming, says Skopec.

"We do feel like with the lack of federal government effort (in Washington) on this issue that someone needs to take the mantle and show that the United States is not totally of one position," he says.

Schwarzenegger took up environmental issues with zeal in 2006. Just last year, Campbell was also a Kyoto Accord skeptic and a proponent of the coal-fired power plants that so anger environmentalists.

Now, both men embrace the science of climate change and are rushing to convert others.

"I can't imagine today people sitting on the shores of the Mediterranean saying to themselves 'The world is flat.' But they did," Campbell notes. "It was orthodoxy for a long time. And then suddenly people discovered through science and discovery that wasn't the case. The same thing has happened in terms of climate change."

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