Greenhouse gas cuts gain favour in the US

Lawmakers support limits on emissions as President stands alone on the issue.

AFTER taking a tough line at the recent Bali climate conference, the Bush administration is being forced to confront a hard reality: It is standing alone at home on global warming, with time now on the side of emission- cut proponents.

After years of inaction, lawmakers are starting to crack the whip and several US states are taking steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, several candidates in next year’s race for the White House have endorsed mandatory cuts.

President George W. Bush “is marginalised by his policies on the environment”, Ms Leslie Carothers of the Pew Centre on Climate Change told The Straits Times.

“There are increasing signs of a robust debate in the country to deal with the problem.”

Among states, California, New Jersey and New York are enacting their own mandatory caps on carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.

And several cities have adopted Kyoto-style targets, trimming emissions via “green” building codes and conversion of municipal fleets to hybrid vehicles as well as other measures.

Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the California wildfires have also alerted Americans to the dangers of climate change.

Such moves by state governments have had the effect of forcing big companies to embrace the notion of a national economy with guidelines to accept limits on greenhouse gases.

The ground is also slowly shifting in Washington.

A Senate committee has approved the first legislation mandating caps on greenhouse gases and sent it to the full Senate for debate next year. Among other measures:

The Senate has passed an energy Bill that cuts US oil use, curbs emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide as well as boosts fuel efficiency; A federal court has upheld a California law that requires curbs in greenhouse gas emissions by cars and trucks that are tougher than US standards, rejecting an argument by vehicle makers that federal law should apply; A panel of US state governors has called for more alternative fuels and clean vehicles, and urged other governors to act to solve America’s energy challenges.

What is striking is that the support for emission ceilings is now growing even among lawmakers of President Bush’s Republican Party – and candidates eyeing the White House in 2009.

At least two of the Republican candidates – Arizona’s senator John McCain and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee – have endorsed mandatory emissions caps.

Almost all the Democrat contenders have accepted plans for action to curb carbon emissions. Front runner Hillary Clinton, for example, has vowed to cut carbon emissions by 30 per cent from 2000 to 2050 with a system of “tradable allowances”.

She also recently signed on to the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which if passed, will create a “market-based framework” to lower emissions. The cap-and-trade approach is at the heart of most of the legislative proposals.

In essence, it involves setting an economy-wide cap on total carbon dioxide emissions, allocating or auctioning emissions allowances to utilities and other companies as well as creating a trading market in these “permissions to pollute”.

It is aimed at getting the right price signals to encourage efficient private sector investment.

And lawmakers are buying into this idea, although some doubt whether the US Congress will accept a successor to the Kyoto Protocol if it did not enlist emerging economies.

Mr Bush’s viewpoint is reflected in the then Republican dominated Senate vote on July 25, 1997, less than five months before the Kyoto Protocol was completed as a framework accord.

In that 95-0 vote, lawmakers said the US should not be party to a treaty that did not include binding targets or a timetable for developing countries or which “would result in serious harm to the economy of the US”.

ROBUST DEBATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

“President Bush is marginalised by his policies on the environment. There are increasing signs of a robust debate in the country to deal with the problem.”
MS LESLIE CAROTHERS, from the Pew Centre on Climate Change, on the situation in the US

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