Clinton seeks balance in energy efficiency plan

October 20, 1993|By Robert S. Boyd | Robert S. Boyd,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Once again seeking to strike a balance between jobs and the environment, President Clinton yesterday announced a voluntary, seven-year energy efficiency program designed to head off what he called "the serious threat of global warming."

As with his other environmental policies -- covering Western logging and cattle grazing and Eastern wetlands and factories on the Mexican border -- the president's plan aligns him with Middle America rather than extremists on either side.

By launching 50 separate initiatives to limit future air pollution, Mr. Clinton won the appreciation of some environmentalists, although others complained that his Climate Change Action Plan doesn't go far enough.

By making his program voluntary instead of mandatory, he relieved the fears of manufacturers and energy companies that create most of the "greenhouse gases" that trap heat and are believed capable of raising the world's temperature in the next century.

And by asserting that the climate plan will create jobs, not destroy them, Mr. Clinton continued his campaign to show himself as a "different kind of Democrat" more attuned to the middle class than to the liberal interest groups that used to dominate his party.

This delicate balancing act was clear in remarks made by Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to industry and environmental leaders -- often bitter enemies -- who were sitting side by side on the south lawn of the White House.

"We will help to build both a healthier environment and a stronger economy for decades to come," Mr. Clinton said.

Compromises have marked Mr. Clinton's other environmental initiatives.

Business leaders generally praised Mr. Clinton's climate plan, which is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the 1990 level, from the increase projected for 2000. That would fulfill a commitment the United States made at the Earth Summit last year.

Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, representing a majority of the nation's electric power utilities, said he is "pleased by the plan's voluntary approach to the global climate change issue."

Reaction among environmentalists was mixed.

Moderates, like John Adams, a friend of Mr. Gore and executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the plan "an important first step."

But Alden Meyer, representing the Union of Concerned Scientists, cautioned that "much more needs to be done. A voluntary approach may not lead to the major shift we need." And Steve Kretzmann of Greenpeace said the plan is "a sucker bet [that] fails to address the root causes of global warming."

Environmentalists were especially disappointed that the Clinton plan skirted the politically sensitive issue of higher auto fuel-mileage standards. They want the standard to be raised from the present 28 miles per gallon to at least 45 mpg, but the president ordered a yearlong study instead.

The climate plan calls for a long list of actions for soaking up greenhouse gases -- from planting trees and harvesting methane from manure to stricter efficiency standards on air conditioners, stoves and refrigerators.

The White House said the plan would cost taxpayers $1.9 billion by 2000, but it expects the private sector to spend more than $60 billion on environmental technologies.

In addition, the government hopes the program will actually save money by ending the current tax subsidy for employer-paid parking. As it is now, employers who provide free parking may deduct the cost -- estimated at $52 billion a year -- as a business expense. The plan suggests they give workers a cash allowance instead. The cash would count as taxable income, raising $1.3 billion through 2000.

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