Economy Promised Front Seat in Bush Climate Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - With great fanfare, President George W. Bush today unveiled his proposals for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. But while Bush says his plan promises "dramatic progress" to improve the environment, environmental groups warn that Bush's proposals would not reduce U.S. emissions global warming gases and could, in fact, increase them.

During a visit to the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), President Bush committed the United States to cutting greenhouse gas "intensity," defined as how much greenhouse gas the country emits per unit of economic activity - by 18 percent over the next 10 years.

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President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy The White House)
"I reaffirm America's commitment to the United Nations Framework [Climate Change] Convention and its central goal, to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate," Bush said. "Our immediate goal is to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy."

Bush said his plan will prevent more than 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere over the next decade, "the equivalent of taking 70 million cars off the road."

"This will set America on a path to slow the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions and, as science justifies, to stop and then reverse the growth of emissions," Bush explained.

The Bush administration will provide incentives for U.S. businesses to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the president said, citing agreements already in place with the semiconductor and aluminum industries. Bush said the government will create better standards for measuring and registering emission reductions by industry.

The Bush plan will promote the use of renewable energy, clean coal technology and nuclear power, and work to "safely improve fuel economy for our cars and our trucks," Bush said.

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Shrouded by greenhouse gases that trap the Sun's heat close to Earth, the planet is warming, most scientists agree (Photo courtesy NOAA)
"Overall, my budget devotes $4.5 billion to addressing climate change - more than any other nation's commitment in the entire world," Bush boasted. "Our nation will continue to lead the world in basic climate and science research to address gaps in our knowledge that are important to decision makers."

Bush also announced a new Clear Skies Initiative, aimed at cutting power plant emissions of three air pollutants - nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury by 70 percent.

"This legislation will constitute the most significant step America has ever taken," Bush said, "to cut power plant emissions that contribute to urban smog, acid rain and numerous health problems for our citizens."

The administration's plan would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from current levels; cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 67 percent, and cap emissions of mercury from power plants for the first time, cutting them by 69 percent. The cuts will occur in two phases, with one set of emission limits due by 2010 and the second by 2018.

The Clear Skies legislation will establish a market based cap-and-trade approach that Bush said "rewards innovation, reduces cost and guarantees results."

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

Each facility would be required to have a permit for each ton of pollution it emits. "By making the permits tradeable, Bush explained, "this system makes it financially worthwhile for companies to pollute less, giving them an incentive to make early and cost effective reductions."

The environmental community was quick to criticize the Bush proposals. The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today called it a "multi-pollutant" air pollution plan that is really a "cynical ploy" to distract public attention away from rollbacks of existing Clean Air Act requirements.

It also could be called the "ghost of Enron," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the trust, "because the proposal is virtually identical to a scheme that Enron lobbied for before the company imploded."

Senior administration officials called the plan "a bold new strategy for addressing global climate change," but Environmental Defense said a truly bold plan would not include as its target continued increases of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

"Equally unfortunate," said Environmental Defense, "the Bush administration's 'greenhouse gas intensity' policy contains no new plan, no new requirement, and no new strategy whatsoever that would bring about changes from the current U.S. trend of steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions."

Greenpeace said the Bush plan has effectively been written by oil giant ExxonMobil. "Controversy over Enron continues to rage, but it's about time the spotlight was turned on ExxonMobil," Greenpeace climate campaigner Benedict Southworth, said. "Exxon spent six times more than Enron lobbying Capitol Hill and with this climate policy they've got what they paid for."

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Coal burning power plants, like this one in Indiana, emit pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury (Photo by Richard Frear, courtesy Indiana National Park Service)
The President was emphatic about keeping the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the United Nations climate change treaty that the rest of the industrialized nations have agreed to ratify this year.

"The approach taken under the Kyoto protocol would have required the United States to make deep and immediate cuts in our economy to meet an arbitrary target. It would have cost our economy up to $400 billion and we would have lost 4.9 million jobs," Bush said today.

Calling the Kyoto Protocol an "unsound international treaty," Bush promised to "actively help developing nations grow along a more efficient, more environmentally responsible path."

Bush said it would be unfair and "counterproductive" to insist that developing nations take on "impractical and unrealistic" greenhouse gas targets such as those mandated for industrialized nations under the Kyoto Protocol to cut emissions of carbon dioxide to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the five year period 2008 to 2012.

"Yet, developing nations such as China and India already account for a majority of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and it would be irresponsible to absolve them from shouldering some of the shared obligations," Bush said.

In his visit to China, Japan and South Korea next week, Bush said he would advance the "greenhouse gas intensity approach" he put forward today.

"The United States will not interfere with the plans of any nation that chooses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol," Bush said. "But I will intend to work with nations, especially the poor and developing nations, to show the world that there is a better approach, that we can build our future prosperity along a cleaner and better path."

Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson does not agree that the Bush policy is "better" than the Kyoto Protocol, and said Canada will stick by its commitment to ratify the protocol this year, after consultation with Canadian governments and stakeholders.

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Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson addresses environment ministers from around the world in Cartagena today. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Speaking from Cartagena, Colombia where he is presiding over the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, Anderson told reporters today that Canada welcomes "this renewed U.S. engagement on clean air and climate change."

He particularly welcomed the move towards a U.S. market based cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. "This will certainly lead to cleaner air across North America and therefore will save lives on both sides of the border.

But Anderson expressed concern that the United States continues to question the scientific basis of the climate change problem. "In Canada, we accept the science of climate change, which incidentally, is mostly from United States sources."

Anderson said Canada is already seeing the impact of climate change, especially in the northern regions, and this "compels us to join in a global effort."

Anderson said the Bush plan includes many of the same initiatives Canada is taking under the Kyoto Protocol - development of clean energy technologies, partnerships domestically and internationally, incentives to spur the uptake of cleaner technology, and technology transfer to developing nations.

In Cartegena, the reaction of 90 environment ministers from every part of the world was "remarkably muted," Anderson said.

"We are immersed in very intense discussion on the future of the world's environmental programs, and the financing of world environmental programs. It's next to impossible for us to break out of the intense work we're doing, which is against deadline, to sit down and discuss the American proposals."

"I've had very tentative comments," Anderson told ENS, "most have been similar to ours - regret that the American plan did not go further, nevertheless a recognition that it's a step forward at least to have an American plan which we've not had the last few months."