New York and neighboring states can cut power plant emissions, clean air - In the face of White House inaction on greenhouse gas emissions, the effort of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to address the issue at the regional level is immensely significant. Gov. George Pataki deserves praise for his leadership in creating the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Now that there's an actual plan on the table, he must lead in getting it adopted soon. We cannot miss this chance.

There's room for improvement in the staff working group proposal for a regional program to cut power plant emissions. Environmental groups differ slightly on how much tweaking is needed, but they agree that, if the plan really cuts power plant emissions, it's an essential step forward.

The working group put out a draft in late August, and it elicited reaction from power plant operators, consumer advocates, environmentalists and others. In late September, environmental and energy agency heads from the nine states met to mull over all the comments. The states have not yet reached full agreement, but there's encouraging movement.

For now, the program is directed only at power plants, major emitters of carbon dioxide, the main global warming culprit. From 2009 to 2015, it would cap emissions at the current level, 150 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. (Some critics aren't sure that's an accurate number.) From 2015 to 2020, it would require a total 10-percent reduction. Some groups, such as Environmental Advocates of New York, believe that the 10-percent reduction is too shallow. Others, such as Natural Resources Defense Council, point out that the initial period of stabilization also amounts to an emissions cut, because emissions might otherwise grow by something close to 10 percent during that time.

Another concern is the "offsets" that will allow power generators to meet some of the reduction goal not by cutting emissions at their plants, but by taking steps to reduce greenhouse gases elsewhere, such as capturing methane emissions from landfills. Some think the plan makes too much use of offsets and doesn't place enough emphasis on forcing the plants to reduce their own emissions at the smokestack. Those are valid questions, and there are others. If they can be answered, we agree with Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense that this initiative "will serve as a model for the entire nation." But first, Pataki and the other governors must reach agreement - and soon.