The Heat Is Online

Congress Moves Toward Emission-Cutting Laws

Lawmakers Begin Effort to Get U.S. to Fight Global Warming

The New York Times, July 27, 2001

WASHINGTON, July 26 -- With the United States now alone in the world in opposing the treaty to combat global warming, some lawmakers are pressing for Congress to take the lead toward reducing emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, the issue on which the Bush administration has so far kept to the sidelines.

Both Democratic and Republican Congressional aides say it is now likely that Congress will pass one or more measures this year calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide, a main provision of the Kyoto global- warming treaty. But it is less clear whether majorities would back the mandatory restrictions spelled out in the treaty and rejected by the administration, or whether they would favor a voluntary approach.

Still, when Christie Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, arrived on Capitol Hill this morning, she heard calls for Congress to make up for the administration's inaction this week in Bonn, where the United States opted out of an agreement on the Kyoto treaty that was backed by more than 180 countries.

"The administration can refuse to commit the United States to the Kyoto accord; that is their choice," Senator James M. Jeffords of Vermont told Mrs. Whitman at a hearing on power plant emissions that was his debut as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, a job he won in May by shifting his party affiliation to independent from Republican.

"But this Congress, this Senate, and especially this committee will not let our international partners down," Mr. Jeffords said. "We plan to take steps to reduce our nation's contribution to this growing problem by working with industry to reduce carbon emissions."

The White House has criticized the Kyoto treaty as "fatally flawed," saying its provisions are unfair to the United States. This morning, Mrs. Whitman defended the administration's go-slow approach in offering any alternative to the treaty, saying it would be premature to present any plan for carbon dioxide reductions until further studies are completed.

"We're still a long way from knowing how to solve the problem," she said.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are widely regarded as the main contributor to global warming, and the United States is the world's largest source of that gas, about one-third of which comes from old coal-burning power plants.

The Bush administration's refusal to adopt mandatory limits on carbon dioxide has put it at odds not only with Europe and Japan, but also with senators like Mr. Jeffords, who has introduced a bill requiring power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The bill is also sponsored by 2 Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, and 12 Democrats.

Other measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are also floating around Congress, including some, like one that Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, is expected to introduce next week, that would stop short of mandatory restrictions in favor of voluntary measures.

Even as the administration scrambles to come up with its own stand on the issue, the Congressional aides and several senators said, the pressures of public opinion and concern over international fallout appear to have added to a view that Congress would be irresponsible to do nothing.

"Very few of us up here want to have America seen as not participating in something that's important," Mr. Hagel said in a telephone interview. He said that what happened in Bonn had redoubled a sense of broad support for doing something.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, "I certainly feel that leadership's got to come from somewhere. It's not coming from the administration."

"And I think it would be a failure for us," Mr. Bingaman said, "to just sit by idly and let the rest of the world work on this problem while our scientists tell us that the problem is very real."

Today's hearings on the subject were the first since the breakup of the Bonn meetings, and a sense of frustration over the administration not offering an alternative was evident even among Republicans who have been supportive of the White House position. Their comments may have reflected recent opinion polls showing that increasing numbers of Americans see the problem as serious.

In the months before the Kyoto treaty was framed in 1997, the Senate voted 95 to 0 for a resolution opposing any treaty that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions unless developing countries were also made subject to the rules that would bind industrialized countries like the United States.

The Bush administration has often pointed to that vote as an indication that a treaty requiring mandatory cuts in carbon dioxide emissions could never win Senate ratification. But supporters of mandatory measures point out that the mounting evidence of the scope and potential severity of climate change problems that has emerged in the last four years has significantly altered both the political and the scientific debates.

Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, told Mrs. Whitman, "The fact of the matter is that we need to deal with the carbon issue, substantively and politically."

In a telephone interview, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a leading critic of the administration's policy, was more explicit, saying: "What happened in Bonn has reinvigorated the notion that the United States is in a very unfortunate position, which encourages many here to think that we've got to take some steps to respond domestically, to put the United States in better graces."

President Bush has said that his administration takes the problem of climate change seriously and is determined to address it. But he has criticized the Kyoto treaty because it does not require immediate action from developing countries and because, he has argued, the steep cuts it would require in carbon dioxide emissions would exact a heavy cost to the American economy.

The administration has said little about its plans since last month when Mr. Bush promised more money for research into causes and possible solutions to global warming.

Administration officials now say that the White House hopes to come up with an alternative to the Kyoto plan in time for the next meeting of the Kyoto group, in October.

Today's hearing focused on emissions from power plants. Mr. Jeffords, whose bill would rein in power- plant emissions of four problem- causing gases said it was wisest to address all four of the gases at once.

But Mrs. Whitman, advocating the administration's three-pollutant approach, said it would be more prudent to move now to tighten restrictions on three undisputed public health problems — nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury — while deferring action on carbon dioxide until its role in global warming was better understood.

"It would be a shame to deny people an important public health goal while we await consensus on carbon dioxide emissions," she said.

U.S. Not Seeking New Global Warming Talks

Bush Unlikely to Offer Alternative to Pact of 178 Nations This Year, Whitman Says

The Washington Post, July 27, 2001

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said yesterday that the Bush administration has little interest in attempting to reopen international global warming talks any time soon and instead will focus on hemispheric and domestic measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In the wake of an agreement by leading U.S. allies in Bonn this week on the details of a global warming treaty that the United States declined to support, Whitman said President Bush is unlikely to offer a substantive alternative when negotiators meet again late this year in Morocco.

Instead, she said, the administration will offer a detailed proposal later this year for reducing emissions other than carbon dioxide from U.S. power plants and factories, and will explore hemispheric plans with Canada and Mexico for reducing the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to the Earth's rising temperature.

"Basically, we're going to continue to do our own thing here," Whitman said during a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. Her comments contrasted with those of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who said last week during a Group of

Eight foreign ministers meeting in Rome that "we are looking toward [the Morocco meeting] for the tabling of specific proposals that could be seen as an alternative."

Whitman, a member of the president's advisory team on energy and climate change issues, added that she is skeptical that the Bonn agreement would be effective. The agreement reached by 178 countries calls for industrial nations to reduce their emissions, on average, to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Whitman said Bush will continue to pursue an alternative approach that stresses research, market-based solutions and technology transfers to developing countries with serious pollution problems.

During the interview, Whitman reiterated the administration's commitment to toughen the government standard for arsenic in drinking water -- while acknowledging that it still may be weaker than the one proposed by the Clinton administration but shelved by the Bush administration.

Whitman, 54, assumed the EPA post this year with a mixed record on environmental issues. As governor of New Jersey, she ordered deep cuts in the state's environmental protection department and favored voluntary industry compliance over tough government enforcement of environmental regulations, but she also cleaned up the beaches and significantly expanded the state's holdings of open spaces.

She got off to a rocky start in Washington when she declared that the new administration was committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and combating global warming. She was undercut when Bush reneged on a campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and then disavowed the global warming treaty that the United States negotiated and signed in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

Whitman responded by saying repeatedly that the president was entitled to accept or ignore the advice of his Cabinet, just as she had been when she was governor.

Yesterday, she said that she is "primarily, mostly" in agreement with the administration on environmental and energy policy, adding, however, that "there are some issues I would do things a little differently." She added: "It's more style than substance."

Whitman said Bush was probably too abrupt in announcing in March that he was disavowing the Kyoto accord, without first conferring with European allies -- a view that has been expressed by other high-level administration officials.

Asked about speculation that she might not complete her term as EPA administrator, Whitman replied: "Oh, I have no plans. If he [Bush] wants me out, I've always told him he has my [letter of] resignation. Whenever he needs it, he just has to tell me. But, right now, I plan to stay here for a while."

Earlier yesterday, Whitman testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on proposals for reducing power plant emissions, a major cause of global warming and health problems.

Whitman said the administration will introduce legislation for reducing three major power plant pollutants -- nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), chairman of the committee, is promoting an alternative bill that includes reductions in carbon dioxide emissions -- an approach opposed by the administration, the coal and utility industries and many lawmakers from the Midwest.

Whitman said she doesn't think it is politically practical to impose restrictions on carbon dioxide and that if Congress and the administration can agree to limit the other three gases, "we will have done some extraordinary things."


© 2001 The Washington Post Company