President offers alternative to Kyoto

Thursday, February 14, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, offering his alternative to the Kyoto global warming pact, wants U.S. businesses to voluntarily track and reduce their output of greenhouse gases. He would offer an array of tax incentives for corporations, farms and individuals to do so.

Bush on Thursday planned to announce his alternative to the Kyoto treaty, which he abandoned last year. The pact required about 40 industrialized nations to cut to fixed levels the carbon dioxide emissions that are believed to cause global warming.

Mindful of the recession, Bush rejected Kyoto's mandates, which he said could cost millions of jobs. Instead, he seeks to draw more businesses into a "registry" of companies that report their greenhouse gas output to the government.

They could then trade newly created credits with each other, much as they can under Clean Air Act provisions aimed at curbing acid rain.

Currently, just 222 companies, mostly electric utilities, register and report. The administration does not have a firm goal for how many businesses it seeks to attract to the program.

One incentive to join would be a guarantee that businesses could use the credits in any future system. In addition, Bush said the government in 2012 will re-evaluate its success in cutting greenhouse gases and consider a new, possibly tougher system.

Bush believes that maintaining and improving about 80 other programs can also help slow greenhouse gas emissions. Through tax incentives, he would urge farmers to plant carbon dioxide-absorbing trees, consumers to buy hybrid and fuel-cell cars and solar hot water heaters and industry to capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from landfills.

He would also use tax breaks to encourage wind and "biomass" energy generation, in which burning grass, trees and waste produces electricity.

Money for climate

The president's proposed budget allocates $4.5 billion for global climate change-related activities, a sum the administration said would be an $700 million increase.

Bush would direct his Cabinet secretaries to lean on those they serve to make "real commitments" to cut greenhouse gases.

The administration is setting a goal of cutting the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to gross domestic product by 18 percent. That ratio fell by an average of 1.6 percent a year during the last 10 years, according to the government's Energy Information Administration.

The Environmental Defense Fund dismissed the 18 percent goal, saying that it guaranteed greenhouse gas emissions would grow as long as the economy did.

In a separate effort, Bush also seeks what the administration termed an "unprecedented" reduction in power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, which the administration called the worst air pollutants.

This would be a "cap-and-trade" program in which the government would set mandatory ceilings on total industry output, and let companies earn and trade credits.

He steered clear of regulating power plants' output of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the so-called greenhouse gases. Bush had promised during his presidential campaign to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants, but reversed himself last year.

"By significantly slowing the growth of greenhouse gases, this policy will put America on a path toward stabilizing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere in the long run, while sustaining the economic growth needed to finance our investments in a new, cleaner energy structure," the administration said in a prepared statement.

An economic report to Bush last week warned that the Kyoto requirements could erode the nation's gross domestic product by up to 4 percent in 2010 -- "a staggering sum when there is no scientific basis for believing this target is preferable to one less costly," the Council of Economic Advisers said.

The Bush administration says the pact would make U.S. industry less competitive by forcing power companies and manufacturers to use expensive fuels or adopt costly technologies.

Voluntary reductions

Environmental groups said they feared a system of voluntary reductions would do nothing to halt global warming.

Dan Becker, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said linking greenhouse gas output with economic activity would be "nibbling around the edges" of the issue.

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