In politics every concept cuts two ways. For instance, conservatives in the Bush White House treasure the concept of federalism, by which the states assert themselves while also being part of the national Union. But when a state such as Oregon experiments in something that is abhorrent to these conservatives such as assisted suicide, federalism loses its glitter.

Now we have the California Legislature, which has broken ground on something Congress won't touch. As reported last Friday by The Wall Street Journal, California's Senate last week agreed to an automobile emission standard based on global warming gases. It is a different way to approach the fuel efficiency standard, about which Congress is squeamish. It is also a way to address global warming, about which President Bush is in denial.

The California state House had already passed this legislation, so its fate now rests with Gov. Gray Davis.

When California moves, Detroit pays attention. Noted the WSJ: "California, the largest auto market in the nation, has repeatedly led the way in passing clean-air standards, and the (new) legislation could trigger by the 2009 model year, a change in the kind of cars and trucks that consumers see in showrooms across the country because it's impractical for auto makers to build different vehicles to meet different emission requirements."

This show of independence and innovation is heartening. California's initiative is much more than inside baseball. With a president and an administration that represent Big Oil, the rest of America cannot sit idly while the evidence of global warming is acknowledged by the bulk of the American scientific establishment and the preponderance of foreign governments.

President Bush's unwillingness to lead the world on environmental issues is a shortcoming of tragic proportion. In the face of a recalcitrant president, California's ingenious approach gives hope.

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