Lieberman, McCain Call for Greenhouse Gas Caps

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - In an unusual collaboration, Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain took the floor of the Senate today to call for a comprehensive cap on America's greenhouse gas emissions. The senators said that the United States should be a leader in efforts to combat global climate change, and take definitive steps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases released by human activities.

Addressing their comments directly at President George W. Bush, the two senators urged the White House to support international initiatives aimed at reducing global warming.


Senator John McCain ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination last year (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"The science surrounding this issue has come increasingly into focus, and Senator Lieberman and I believe that it is time to take action," said McCain, the Arizona Republican who was Bush's primary rival last year for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Given the fact that the United States produces approximately 25 percent of the total greenhouse gases emissions, the United States has a responsibility to cut its emissions of greenhouse gasses," McCain said. "A comprehensive cap on America's greenhouse gas emissions, paired with an allowance trading system, can encourage innovation across the full range of opportunities for reducing emissions."

McCain and Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who ran for vice president on last year's Democratic ticket, proposed a system under which emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be federally regulated. As with other air pollutants that are currently regulated, the Senators also proposed that companies which do a better job at controlling their emissions than required by law be able to sell credits to other companies emitting excess greenhouse gases.

"If we adopt a cap and trade system, we will create a market by which corporations will receive valuable credits for efficient investments," noted Lieberman. "We also will create a market by which corporations can receive credit for the laudable investments they have made to date. And we will unleash the power of that market to drive the United States back into its leadership position in the international effort to avoid the worst effects of one of the most serious environmental problems the world community has ever faced."


Senator Joe Lieberman has a strong record of voting in favor of environmental initiatives (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Lieberman noted that the failure of the United States to participate in last month's international agreement on various mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions could jeopardize U.S. economic interests.

"That agreement will create a worldwide market in greenhouse gas reductions, using market forces to drive environmental gains," Lieberman said. "Unfortunately, because the United States did not participate, U.S. interests were virtually ignored in crafting the final deal. In the end, I believe that not just our environment but our economy will suffer as a result."

Lieberman and McCain countered Bush administration arguments that the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate change pact that directs current efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, would prove damaging to the U.S. economy because the Protocol does not initially apply to developing countries. The administration has called the Protocol "fatally flawed," because it could force expensive environmental restrictions on companies in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, while sparing non-industrialized nations.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the two senators said today, companies will preferentially build their newer, cleaner, more energy efficient plants in countries where they can gain credits for meeting or exceeding greenhouse gas caps. If the U.S. opts not to participate in the Protocol, "the result will be that more efficient, more competitive technology will be driven overseas," warned Lieberman.

McCain and Lieberman said they would work with environmental and industry groups this fall to craft a greenhouse gas "cap and trade" program that will benefit all sectors. Many companies already have a vested interest in seeing the U.S. enact caps on global warming pollutants, the senators noted, because they have already taken steps to reduce their own emissions in the hopes of receiving future credits for their efforts.


President George W. Bush's opposition to mandatory greenhouse gas emission reductions could jeopardize the U.S. economy, the senators argued (Photo courtesy The White House)
Some of those efforts could go unrewarded due to the failure of the United States to sign off on a decision reached by delegates at the latest round of Kyoto Protocol talks, last month in Bonn, Germany.

"A number of our large corporations have invested heavily in forest conservation on the assumption that they would receive credit for these forests' ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere," Lieberman explained. "In Bonn, however - without the U.S. at the table - credit for forest conservation was written out of the agreement."

President Bush has been shortsighted in his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, and in his refusal to consider mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector and other industries, said McCain. The senator pointed to a successful sulfur dioxide cap and trade program that has slashed emissions of this acid rain producing pollutant in the Northeast.

"While U.S. businesses are gaining experience with voluntary programs and are recognized as the world's experts in this area, they are increasingly recognizing that purely voluntary approaches will not be enough to meet the goal of preventing dangerous effects on the climate system," McCain said. "Increasingly, businesses confronting these risks see sensible regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as necessary and inevitable. Clearly, they prefer the cap and trade approach."

Bush's preference for a voluntary approach to greenhouse gas emissions controls is doomed to failure, McCain warned.

power plant

President Bush has refused to consider capping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants - the primary stationary source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (Photo by Carole Swinehart, courtesy Michigan Sea Extension)
"Ultimately, we need to make sure that the emissions reductions our companies, our farmers, and our foresters produce are fully recognized and fully tradable in the emerging global greenhouse gas marketplace," he said.

The conservation group Environmental Defense praised the senators' action, calling it another sign that members of Congress favor direct action to combat climate change.

"This bipartisan action should demonstrate clearly that economically and environmentally sound approaches to the problem of global warming are available and politically viable," said Environmental Defense executive director Fred Krupp. "It's time to end growing U.S. isolationism on climate change and put America's ingenuity and market power to work against the premier environmental threat of the 21st century."

Krupp noted that on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to pass a a nonbinding resolution urging President George W. Bush to resume negotiations on the international Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The "Sense of Congress" resolution urges Bush to formulate "flexible international and domestic mechanisms" for combating climate change, and offer concrete recommendations at climate change talks scheduled for this fall.

McCain and Lieberman's statements reject the Bush administration's emphasis on placing U.S. interests over international needs. The president has been repeatedly criticized for withdrawing U.S. support for international treaties on climate change, chemical weapons and other areas.

"The United States must realize that when it comes to the climate, there are no boundaries," McCain said. "Therefore, climate change is an global problem and must be resolved globally."