U.S. anti-pollution effort falling short of treaty's goals Administration considers toughening standards


WASHINGTON -- Acknowledging that its program of largely voluntary anti-pollution measures is falling short of its goal, the Clinton administration is considering tougher steps to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.

When the administration established the current program in 1993, it said the provisions would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000. That would have kept the pledge made by the United States and other industrial nations when they signed the Rio de Janeiro treaty on global warming in 1992.

But with emissions rising steadily, it is becoming increasingly clear that the United States will not meet that target, especially now that Congress is moving to cut spending on energy conservation and to eliminate some elements of the administration's current efforts.

In the meantime, leading scientists have said they are more certain than ever that continuing increases in emissions already are warming the planet and will have major environmental consequences unless they are reined in.

"We appear to be veering off the target, and a gap now exists between our goals and what current actions and funding are likely to accomplish," Stephen Seidel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said Friday.

The council is scheduled to decide by December whether to toughen its anti-pollution program. At the hearing Friday, industry groups urged the administration not to impose any mandatory controls, while environmentalists called for requiring the automobile industry to increase vehicles' fuel efficiency.

Groups representing oil companies, electric utilities, automobile makers and others have said that mandatory steps would be too costly and that the current program's voluntary measures need more time to work.

But environmental groups say the measures neglect a principal and fast-growing source of greenhouse gases: the carbon dioxide emitted by cars burning gasoline.

Rather than require auto makers to increase the average efficiency of the cars they sell, the administration last year convened a yearlong conference of environmentalists, car companies and others to seek a consensus on ways of cutting auto pollution.

But the conference broke up last week without filing a report. A group representing a majority of the conference's participants will file a report, but a consensus will be lacking.

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