Pennsylvania recently joined nine other Northeastern states that committed to the development of a regional strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which contribute to global warming.

The initiative, proposed by New York Gov. George Pataki, would involve developing a market-based emissions trading system to require power generators to reduce emissions.

Besides Pennsylvania and New York, the states of Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island sent letters expressing interest in developing a “cap and trade” program for carbon dioxide from power plants.

Pataki praised the states, which contain about one-fifth of the nation’s population, for joining a “historic initiative.” Maryland officials indicated they may participate in discussions at a future date.

The proposal to form a regional strategy came from a Greenhouse Gas Task Force that was appointed by Pataki in 2001.

The timetable for the multistate talks does not call for an agreement on how the program would work until April 2005, and it could be years after that before rules are in effect to actually reduce emissions.

Nonetheless, many environmental groups offered praise for the initiative, which they hope will spur national action to stem climate change, which many scientists say poses a threat to the Bay and other ecosystems around the world.

“This agreement sets an important national precedent and represents real leadership on the question of how to solve the challenge of climate change,” said James Tripp, general council of the group Environmental Defense and a member of the Greenhouse Gas Task Force. “These states are recognizing that climate change has real consequences for health and the environment—and that solutions exist that make sense for the economy.”

Ultimately, the plan would involve setting emission caps for power plants. Then, plants that keep their emissions under the cap would qualify for credits that they could then sell, while dirtier plants would have to buy credits to meet their cap obligations.

The idea is that plant owners would have more financial incentives to build and operate clean, efficient plants, or modernize dirtier plants through cleaner fuels or new equipment.

A recent multiyear study by scientists from the Pennsylvania State University concluded that climate change could have dramatic impacts on the mid-Atlantic in the coming century, including accelerated sea level rise in the Chesapeake that would increase the rate of shoreline erosion and flooding tidal wetlands.

The scientific review also considered it likely that a warmer atmosphere will increase the frequency and severity of storms, which would increase nutrient and sediment runoff into the Chesapeake.

Increased runoff and warmer water temperatures could worsen summertime low-oxygen conditions in the Bay, potentially offsetting some of the Bay Program’s efforts to improve water quality in the estuary.