CNN.com, Feb, 14, 2002
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush unveiled his alternative to the Kyoto agreement to combat global warming Thursday, offering businesses incentives to voluntarily reduce the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States over 10 years and setting mandatory targets for businesses to reduce power plant emissions by 70 percent by 2018.
The president's plan links the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output, calling for an 18 percent reduction in what's termed greenhouse gas intensity over 10 years. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions and economic output. This means that emissions will still continue to grow, but at a lower rate.
A senior administration official said this equates to eliminating roughly 4.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that would be emitted over 10 years without the president's plan, a figure the official said is "in the ballpark" with what other countries are required to do under Kyoto.
But the president's plan is dramatically lower than the estimated 33 percent reduction that the Kyoto agreement sought for the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kyoto agreement, which called for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels, required mandatory reductions, whereas the Bush plan would be voluntary.
You can always put in mandatory in the future, if that's what you think you have to have," Christie Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told CNN Thursday. "But let's get people to put their creativity behind finding the solutions which they do far more rapidly if it is voluntary than if it's mandatory."
"This new approach is based on the common sense idea that sustainable economic growth is the key to environmental progress -- because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies," Bush is expected to say in remarks prepared for a Thursday address at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Administration officials said the president's plan will prevent at least 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being emitted, or the equivalent of 70 million cars being taken off the road, roughly the same projections for the Kyoto agreement.
"You're going to see a real impact on the quality of our environment and the air we breathe," Whitman said.
Bush rejected the Kyoto agreement, which 178 other nations accepted last year, because it exempted developing nations and large polluters such as India. Bush also charged it would harm the U.S. economy -- the White House says Kyoto would ultimately result in the loss of $400 billion to the U.S. economy and a loss of 4.9 million jobs.
The president faced tremendous criticism from environmental groups and U.S. allies, including Japan, for rejecting Kyoto. The Kyoto treaty was named after the Japanese city where the treaty was negotiated and signed.
The timing of Bush's announcement comes as he prepares to travel to Asia, with visits planned to Japan, South Korea and China. The president wanted to unveil an alternative to Kyoto before the trip.
U.S. officials said they hope that American allies view this as a "complement path" to Kyoto and as a "thoughtful and constructive approach" for addressing climate change.
"The president is very concerned about the effect Kyoto would have on America's workers, on American jobs and on the American economy, that it is not the right remedy to have a massive reduction below 1990 levels," said Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary.
"If that were to go into effect, it would have a screeching-halt effect on the economy and people would lose their jobs as a result. The president believes that we can have economic growth and environmental enhancement," Fleischer said.
Under a separate plan called the "Clear Skies Initiative," Bush will set mandatory targets for reductions in three other pollutants from power plants -- sulfur dioxides, believed to be responsible for acid rain; nitrogen oxides, which contribute to urban smog, and mercury.
The goals include cutting sulfur dioxide from current emissions of 11 million tons to 3 million tons in 2018, cutting emissions of nitrogen oxides from current levels of 5 million tons to 1.7 million tons in 2018, and cutting mercury emissions from 48 tons to 15 tons in 2018.
To accomplish these goals, Bush will call for a "cap and trade" program, allowing businesses that fall below the caps to sell credits to larger businesses so those businesses could meet the new guidelines.
White House aides said these are "significant cuts" that would cost industry "billions and billions of dollars," but said the program will work because it provides financial incentives to businesses and is based on the success of the trading program already in place to combat acid rain.
The administration said Bush's plan for cutting the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent over 10 years would lower the rate of emissions from an estimated 183 metric tons per million dollars of gross domestic product in 2002 to about 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP in 2012.
The president's plan will include incentives for businesses to invest in cleaner technology and other incentives for businesses to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A senior administration official said the plan would include a "more robust system" of measuring and crediting companies for the reductions they are making.
Bush will also call on Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to develop a plan so that businesses that implement voluntary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will not be penalized if climate policy is changed in the future.
Finally, Bush's plan includes $4.5 billion in next year's budget for global climate change programs, a $700 million increase over this year's budget, according to the White House. This money includes the first year of funding for a five-year, $4.6 billion program for tax credits for businesses pursuing renewable energy sources, the White House said.
President Bush is set to announce a plan today calling for voluntary measures to slow but not halt the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming, White House officials said last night.
The climate proposal is Mr. Bush's response to the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty accepted but not yet ratified by all other large industrialized countries, which would require cuts in such emissions by 2010 to well below their 1990 levels. Mr. Bush rejected the treaty last March, calling its targets arbitrary, its schedule too costly to meet and its terms, which are not easily applied in large developing countries, unfair.
The program he is to announce this afternoon would slow the rate of growth in emissions in relation to the growth of the overall economy. It would use $4.6 billion in tax credits over the next five years to encourage companies and individuals to limit those emissions.
Utilities, for example, would get incentives to build power-generating windmills; homeowners would get new tax credits for buying solar panels or more efficient cars.
The one thing the climate policy would not do is require anything of anybody, sticking with the position Mr. Bush has held for more than a year on the climate issue: that firm limits on the so-called greenhouse gases would drag down the economy.
The administration's approach, he plans to say, is based "on the common-sense idea that sustainable economic growth is the key to environmental progress — because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies," according to an advance text.
On another emissions issue unrelated to climate, aides said Mr. Bush would call today for mandatory restrictions on three other kinds of pollutants from power plants: mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. In contrast to proposals by environmentalists and many Democrats, however, the plan would delay such cuts until 2010 or later.
Last night, administration officials called the voluntary approach on climate the most reasonable path for the time being. A senior administration official did say, however, that if insufficient progress was being made by 2012, there could be a move toward some kind of limits. "If we're not making progress toward our goal," he said, "we will be considering a full range of programs."
Some environmental groups criticized this kind of checkup, saying it puts off any measuring of progress until well after Mr. Bush is out of office.
Under the administration's proposed target, the growth rate of emissions of carbon dioxide would drop nearly 18 percent by 2012 — to 151 metric tons for each $1 million in gross domestic product, from the current level of 183 metric tons.
But environmental groups sharply criticized this kind of yardstick, saying that it merely reflects an existing trend toward using energy more efficiently and adding that as long as the economy grows, this would not result in emissions reductions.
Alluding to the date of the speech, Jennifer Morgan, the climate policy director for the World Wildlife Fund, called it "a valentine to the coal and oil industry that will allow emissions to increase without any time frame, eternally."
One provision of the new climate plan would be to greatly expand a program encouraging businesses to monitor and report their emissions of greenhouse gases. Those that participate, voluntarily, would gain credits that might eventually be used in a trading scheme similar to that used for other pollution.
White House officials said this could prompt industries to change behavior, the same way similar reporting requirements instituted in the late 1980's resulted in big cuts in releases of toxic chemicals.
Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a private lobbying group, criticized this approach, saying: "The president's global warming proposal appears to be another faith-based initiative: we should have faith that major corporations will line up to volunteer cuts in their carbon pollution. That approach has failed for a decade now, since the president's father set up the first voluntary program."
And Myron Ebell, a climate policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a private group whose free- market views are frequently embraced by industry, criticized the idea from the opposite ideological direction.
"What looks like voluntary will actually be coercive," Mr. Ebell said.
The president is leaving for Asia on Saturday and has been under pressure to present a climate plan before visiting Japan. Japan, which has avoided criticizing the administration over its rejection of the treaty, has been eager for a sign that Mr. Bush is concerned about the issue. Several experts on the treaty said that his decision to make the announcement now was very likely influenced by this situation.
The proposed plan on nongreenhouse emissions from power plants — mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides — would impose mandatory limits but would allow companies to exceed them by buying credits from others that reduce pollution below required levels.
There would be no similar limits on power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. In the face of lobbying from coal companies and utilities, Mr. Bush abandoned a campaign pledge last March to control the four plant emissions together and has shown no signs of reconsidering that idea.
As hints of the emerging plan circulated in e-mail messages by environmental groups and conservative groups, it appeared that no one was particularly pleased.
An official at an energy company that had been pressing the White House to revise power plant rules said the best news was that there was something finally on the table to discuss.
"At least they're coming out with something," the official said. "It may not be what everyone wants, but it recognizes that the Senate is going to deal with climate on its power plant bill."