WASHINGTON - The climate policy put forward by President Bush on Thursday marks the first time the administration has acknowledged the need to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but continues to steer the nation on a sharply different path than most of the rest of the world.
Bush once again rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty that sets targets for reducing carbon dioxide and other man-made greenhouse gas emissions that most scientists believe are responsible for heating up Earth's atmosphere.
The president also said the scientific evidence for global warming isn't clear enough to merit action that might weaken the economy and cause the loss of millions of jobs.
"Addressing global climate change will require a sustained effort over many generations," Bush said in a speech to employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md.
"My approach recognizes that economic growth is the solution, not the problem, because a nation that grows its economy is a nation that can afford investments and new technologies," Bush said. "I will not commit our nation to an unsound treaty that will throw millions of our citizens out of work."
Under the Kyoto treaty, which was negotiated by more than 100 nations in Japan in 1997, the United States would be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels.
Under Bush's plan, the United States would increase its greenhouse gas emissions by about 14 percent over the decade - roughly the same amount that emissions increased over the last decade.
White House officials said that would still be about an 18 percent reduction in the increase in emissions that would take place without Bush's plan. The heart of the plan is to encourage companies to voluntarily slow the growth in their greenhouse gas emissions by giving them "credits" that could be cashed in at some time in the future if the government ever decides to set mandatory reduction caps.
The chief greenhouse gas responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide. Man-made carbon dioxide is produced primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide accounts for about 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Pollution from power plants accounts for the largest share of carbon emissions, about 40 percent, and automobiles the next-largest share, about 20 percent. The rest is primarily from industrial fossil-fuel use and home heating with oil and natural gas.
Bush's plan was warmly greeted by the electric utility and mining industries, which have a vested interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels.
National Mining Association President Jack Gerard said the Bush proposal will allow "the expanded use of coal to meet growing electricity demand." The Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric utilities, said the plan "allows for flexibility and incentives" for utilities to develop cleaner fossil-fuel-burning technologies.
Environmentalists and several key members of Congress said the plan was little more than window dressing and would make no improvement in the U.S. contribution to curbing global warming. The United States emits about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
"Real carbon reductions appear to have completely fallen off the table in this climate policy," said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Jeffords, I-Vt. "All we're getting are some crumbs and some of them even appear to be recycled crumbs that Congress never passed and probably wouldn't have worked anyway."
Some states and localities have been moving ahead on their own to address climate change. California, for example, could become the first state to try to ease global warming by limiting carbon dioxide emissions from autos if a bill approved last week by the state assembly becomes law as expected.
Environmentalists have been pushing for a mandatory reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by power plants and an increase in the corporate average fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon.
"The reality is that by taking action to control CO2 from power plants and raising the miles-per-gallon standard for cars we could eliminate the growth in emissions over the next decade and begin to reverse it," said Dan Lashof, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The administration opposes that and offers accounting tricks instead."
On the Net:
The White House - www.whitehouse.gov
Natural Resources Defense Council - www.nrdc.org