Bush gets heat on global warming
Entergy chief urges reducing emissions
New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sept. 11, 2003
Chastising the White House for not doing enough to combat global warming, Entergy Corp.'s chairman said Wednesday that his company supports a clean air proposal offered by Democrats in Congress as an alternative to President Bush's proposed "Clear Skies" initiative.
"The current administration's solution to the enormous climate change is just to study it to death," said Robert Luft, who heads the New Orleans-based utility's board of directors. "Make no mistake. If today's leaders of government and business don't start understanding the need to take emission reductions seriously, we will leave a grim, grim legacy for our children and grandchildren."
His comments came in the opening session of the Society of Environmental Journalists' annual convention at the Astor Crown Plaza hotel on Canal Street.
Congress for more than a year has been considering Bush's air pollution reduction proposal, which would cut emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides 70 percent by 2018 through a program that would allow heavy-polluting power utilities to buy credits from companies that reduce their emission levels below the new federal standards set by the bill.
The proposal has drawn criticism for reducing pollution too slowly and leaving out limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which Luft and others say are the main cause of global warning. In 1999, electricity generators -- primarily ones fueled by coal -- produced nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, topping releases from automobiles, other industries and homes.
Entergy and other opponents of the president's plan have thrown their support behind a competing proposal by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that is similar to Clear Skies but adds limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
Luft also criticized the White House for opposing efforts to more accurately measure carbon dioxide emissions.
"I'm a lifelong Republican and an admirer of much of what President Bush has accomplished. Still, I cannot express my frustration with his performance in this area," the utility executive said. "How are we ever going to break the cycle of inaction and address this looming climate catastrophe if we don't even have a handle on how big the problem is?"
The Carper bill has gained support from some Senate Republicans in recent weeks, and Washington observers believe it now has a better chance of winning Senate approval than Bush's initiative. The bill is viewed by many as a viable compromise in the debate about pollution reduction, but some environmental groups have criticized the proposal for not requiring stiffer pollution reductions over a shorter time period.
Entergy's position runs counter to the one taken by most of the nation's other large power utilities and the industry's main lobbying organization in Washington, the Edison Electric Institute, which say Carper's proposal would cost the industry and consumers 50 percent more than the Clear Skies initiative.
Luft said Entergy's position in the debate is rooted in the company's ethical responsibility to support strategies that offer long-term benefits to both the company and the nation.
He pointed to the company's 2-year-old voluntary initiative to maintain carbon dioxide emissions from Entergy power plants at 2000 levels through 2005. He said the company is on track to keep its promise. So far, emissions reduction projects have cut carbon dioxide releases by 12 percent, he said.
But the company's environmental strategy also could help strengthen its position in the increasingly competitive energy market.
Carbon dioxide emission limits, such as the ones in the Carper bill, would be more onerous for utilities that depend heavily on coal-fired plants to produce their electricity.
Entergy, on the other hand, gets nearly 90 percent of its electricity from plants that are fueled by natural gas, which produces smaller levels of carbon dioxide pollution, or from nuclear reactors, which emit no carbon dioxide.
Luft praised the administration for its efforts to promote the construction of new nuclear power plants, which he called a critical and necessary ingredient in the effort to halt global warming.
"It's the only large-scale way to generate electricity that is essentially emission-free," he said. "I can't imagine seriously confronting the climate issue without accepting greater nuclear reliance."
Entergy is the nation's second-largest nuclear power plant operator, and the company is one of a handful of utilities that have expressed interest in building the first new nuclear power generator in the United States in 20 years.
But before that happens, Luft said, the federal government and the industry must do more to reduce the cost of constructing a nuclear plant.
"What we really need is new technology," he said.