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Clinton proposing phased-in reductions in greenhouse gases, tax breaks

October 22, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton today proposed gradual, mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases to curb the threat of global warming and also urged tax breaks and other incentives to spur energy conservation.

``The problem is real, and if we do not change our course now, the consequences _ sooner or later _ will be destructive,″ Clinton said in a speech before the National Geographic Society.

Noting that the United States has fewer than 5 percent of the world’s people but is responsible for more than 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, Clinton said the nation must act though the results of global warming ``have not yet hit home for most Americans.″

``We must begin now to take out our insurance policy on the future,″ he said.

Clinton’s plan calls on U.S. industries to begin a path toward reducing carbon emissions as soon as possible to bring them to 1990 levels over the next dozen years. While for the first time embracing ``binding″ pollution curbs, the proposal falls short of what the Europeans have demanded and what many environmentalists have said is needed to address the warming threat.

Four years ago, Clinton said the United States through voluntary efforts could cap carbon emissions at 1990 levels by the end of the decade, but emissions have been growing and are now expected to exceed 1990 levels by 13 percent by 2000.

Defending the about-face, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said today, ``It would be unrealistic to attempt to reach _ by the year 2000 _ 1990 levels on emissions ... because it would most likely wreck the world economy if you attempted to do that.″

Clinton’s basic theme is that global warming concerns can be addressed through technology innovations and without new energy taxes.

His proposal, which will serve as the U.S. position at negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, in December, calls for industrial nations to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels in the 2008-2012 time period and over the following five years make further reductions.

It also would:

_Create a $5 billion package of tax breaks to spur energy efficiency and development of new energy technologies that would allow a gradual shift away from fossil fuels.

_Provide credits for industries that make early emission reductions. The idea is to reward companies that act early, officials said.

_Develop an emissions trading program among U.S. companies and among industrial nations to reduce costs of carbon reductions.

_Calls for an agreement among industrial nations to stabilize greenhouse gases over five years beginning in 2008 followed by unspecified reductions between 2012 and 2017. Countries would be able to average annual emissions within the five-year periods, allowing them to postpone reductions in some cases.

Because of economic growth, stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels around 2010 actually would require U.S. industries to cut emissions by as much as 30 percent from where they would have been without any action, officials said.

While no binding commitments would be required for developing countries such as China, the White House said ``the United States will not adopt binding obligations without developing-country participation.″ Developing countries will have to make some commitment before a treaty would be ratified and put into effect, officials said.

As details of the plan emerged, some environmental leaders gave it cautious support while others said it fell far short of dealing with global warming. Most energy intensive industry groups blasted the proposal; those in sustainable energy technology areas praised it.

Howard Ris, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the U.S. proposal should be a starting point and, ``If it’s the best they can do, we’re going to be disappointed.″

``The good news is they’ve rejected the do-nothing approach. The bad news is they’re not going far enough to achieve substantial reductions,″ said Gene Karpinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Michael Marvin of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy called the proposal reasonable and said many businesses will welcome it. His group includes technology companies that would benefit from proposed incentives.

Other industry groups said the binding carbon reductions would harm economic growth. The Global Climate Coalition, including oil and electric utility companies and the Big Three auto makers, said it opposes any U.S. commitment to binding reductions.

Environmentalists as well as the Europeans have urged more aggressive controls that Clinton was willing to take, including emission reductions of 15 percent below 1990 beginning on a limited basis as early as 2005.

Clinton told a Democratic campaign fund-raiser Tuesday night the United States must take the lead in addressing global warming.

``The overwhelming consensus of scientists is that we must reduce our greenhouse gases,″ Clinton said. ``I refuse to hide our heads in the sand. We have to face that.″

McCurry acknowledged that there was no assurance the U.S. plan would be enough to get a treaty in Kyoto. He said that Clinton had telephoned world leaders this week to see what the prospects were for success in Kyoto.

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