Bush outlines plan on global warming

Policy would encourage, but not require, industry to cut greenhouse gases

February 15, 2002|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SILVER SPRING - President Bush outlined a plan yesterday that would encourage - but not require - U.S. industries to pollute less, while allowing them to ignore the stricter pollution limits that other industrialized nations are pursuing under the Kyoto accord on global warming.

In his most significant environmental speech as president, Bush underscored his objections to the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty to curb carbon dioxide and other emissions that he warned would harm the U.S. economy and force millions of Americans out of work.

Bush's alternative would offer tax incentives for businesses to voluntarily cut emissions. And it would set a 10-year national target for reducing pollution that is less aggressive than under the Kyoto pact.

Environmental groups reacted scornfully. They argued that the president was abandoning a vital treaty and replacing it with a proposal that would produce negligible, if any, results and offer no assurances of any progress until well after Bush leaves office.

Speaking at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration here, Bush said he "will not commit our nation to an unsound international treaty" but that he recognizes "our international responsibilities."

His plan, he said, recognizes that robust industries can coexist with a clean environment and that a growing economy can actually help curb air pollution.

"Economic growth is key to environmental progress," Bush said, "because it is growth that provides the resources for investment" in technologies that could help produce cleaner emissions.

The president has been under pressure from other nations to articulate an alternative to the Kyoto agreement since he announced last year that the United States would abandon the pact. The treaty was negotiated by President Bill Clinton but has not been ratified by the Senate.

Bush unveiled his new approach two days before leaving for a trip to Asia, where he will likely face sharp questions about how he intends to fight global warming.

The president also used his remarks to lay out a proposal to reduce emissions of three other pollutants - sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury - which contribute to urban smog and acid rain. Bush would relax or scrap many existing regulations under the Clean Air Act that require power plants to cut emissions.

Instead, he would set targets for cutting emissions over the next 16 years. Utility companies that cut emissions would receive financial breaks. Companies could pay for the right to continue polluting at the same levels.

Bush noted that a limited, experimental version of such a system had sharply reduced acid rain over the past 12 years by offering incentives to industries for curbing pollution, but letting them decide how best to do it.

"Instead of the government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will tell them when and how much to cut," the president said. "We will give them a firm deadline and let them find the most innovative ways to meet it."

Taken together, Bush's proposal to fight global warming and his plan to cut power plant emissions reflect his longstanding position that the environment must be protected - but only in ways that do not harm the economy or cost jobs.

The president has said for months that environmental regulations can stymie energy production and impede American businesses, while doing little to improve the environment.

Environmental groups and other critics argued yesterday that Bush's proposals would offer no guarantees that pollution would be reduced, because the reductions called for are voluntary.

David Hawkins, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, complained that Bush's plan to combat global warming would allow U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to rise over the next decade.

"The benchmark for global warming policy is whether it cuts global warming pollution," Hawkins said. "This plan calls for more pollution growth, at the same dangerous pace as the past decade."

A senior administration official said that under Bush's plan, "emissions will continue to grow, but at a much slower rate."

Bush's plan would link reductions in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions to the strength of the economy. He said he hopes to reduce such emissions by 18 percent over the next decade. Critics pointed out, though, that under his plan, a rising economy would allow industries to pollute more.

Sen. James M. Jeffords, the Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said: "Real carbon reductions appear to have completely fallen off the table in [Bush's] climate policy.

"All we're getting are some crumbs," Jeffords said.

Other lawmakers applauded Bush's plan.

"Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the president's plan combines sound science with the realization that the best way to ensure a clean environment ... is to ensure that our nation's economy remains strong," said Rep. John E. Peterson, a Pennsylvania Republican.

A senior administration official suggested that if Congress approves Bush's plan to reduce power plant emissions, "we won't have to rely on [the Clean Air Act] any longer" to force plants to pollute less. The official said the White House was "going to go ahead" with revisions to the Clean Air Act that do not require congressional approval.

One revision, the official said, would relax the "new source review" regulation, which requires older coal-fired plants to reduce emissions whenever they perform a major renovation.

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