Light touch air plan:
Bush answer to Kyoto mandates relies too much on incentives
Grand Rapids Press
President Bush's rejection
last year of the Kyoto greenhouse-gas proposal created
a duty for him to come up with a substantial clean-up
idea of his own. The plan he has dubbed the "Clear Skies
Initiative" doesn't do it.
The approach relies
too much on economic incentives and voluntary cooperation
by industries and not enough on hard-and-fast mandates
and deadlines. Without such a firm framework for progress,
chances are remote that anything significant will be done
about emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases that
may be contributing to global climate change.
There also is something
to be said for respecting international opinion on this
subject. The United States needs the cooperation of other
nations across a range of economic, defense and environmental
issues -- the war on terrorism foremost among them. It
follows that the United States should at least move in
the same general direction of its international neighbors
in the matter of world air pollution.
That isn't to say that
the 1997 Kyoto treaty should have been accepted by this
country. The drastic reductions it required in U.S. emissions
-- approximately a 25 percent cut in a decade -- were
unrealistic and would have assured the transfer of major
parts of the American economy to developing nations. All
of those countries, including major economic competitors
China and India, were exempted from the emissions-reduction
mandates. The U.S. Senate reacted to the treaty with a
95-0 vote opposing any agreement that didn't require equal
compliance by developing nations. President Clinton, who
had a hand in writing the agreement, didn't bother to
send it to the Senate for ratification. Formal rejection
last spring by Mr. Bush was a foregone conclusion.
But if not Kyoto, then
what? The president's plan calls for $4.5 billion in tax
incentives to nudge industries toward greenhouse-gas reductions
and for consumers to buy energy-conserving appliances
and fuel-cell cars. Industries could earn pollution-control
credits which could be traded or applied if a binding
system of caps is adopted in the future. This essentially
voluntary program would apply to emissions of sulfur dioxide,
mercury and nitrogen oxides. Missing is carbon dioxide,
the most prevalent of greenhouse gases and a primary emission
of coal-burning electric power plants.
The president wants
to give this market-based approach some time, switching
to a tougher system later if progress isn't made. But
2012, the time Mr. Bush has in mind, conveniently arrives
well after he's out of office. Better that the binding
standards be put in place now. Rules could be devised
that would not destroy the economy but that would push
utilities and other industries toward significant targets.
Firm direction now also could influence plant design decisions
that carry across decades.
The Bush plan also gives
no clue to what might be done in the rest of the world.
He had rightly criticized the Kyoto treaty's free pass
for China and Third World countries, a group that includes
some of the world's biggest polluters. Indeed, that huge
hole made the treaty's effectiveness extremely dubious.
But Mr. Bush has offered no alternative, save for some
modest economic incentives for developing countries.
The president ought
to reconsider his emission-control strategy. Congress
should push the point. The Earth's surface temperature
did rise in the 20th century. Though the amount was slight,
it showed a pattern that must not be overlooked. This
is one issue that, even on a cold winter day, should generate
heat and light.