Environmental Issues Looming over Corporate America

Article excerpt

With the ebbing of the cold war, the environmental issue is moving up on the international agenda.

And it is also moving up on the corporate agenda, as demonstrated by the Exxon stockholders' meeting in Houston at which a series of environmental initiatives were defeated even as top management insisted upon its commitment to environmental protection.

Is the environment a ``motherhood issue''?

Indeed, one problem in dealing with the topic is everybody insists he or she is devoted to preserving the environment, but there is intense conflict over how to do it and at what cost to taxpayers, business or national economic interests.

Last week at Harriman, N.Y., the American Assembly, a forum founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was president of Columbia University, brought together 76 leading scientists, economists, business executives, political scientists and politicians, international officials and environmentalists from 19 countries to tackle the environmental problem.

After four days of debate, the participants concluded the danger of global warming was so severe the United States should take immediate action to lessen it.

That conclusion came, as the assembly statement noted, ``just days after a White House conference on the same subject at which the president and other administration officials refused to acknowledge that the risks of global warming are sufficiently clear to merit immediate action.''

In sharp contradiction to the administration's position, the assembly declared, ``There is a scientific consensus that rising concentrations of greenhouse gases will cause global climate change. Therefore, the earth is set to experience substantial climate change of unknown scale and rate.

``The consequences are likely to include sea level rise, greater frequency of extreme weather events, disruptions of ecosystems and potentially vast impacts on the global economy.''

It made specific recommendations on how to reduce those dangers.

Warning of the ``irreversibility'' of some threats to the environment unless prompt action was taken, it called for a 20 percent reduction by the year 2005 in global carbon dioxide emissions from burning gasoline, coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

And it recommended the United States enact a ``large, phased-in increase in the federal tax on gasoline and the adoption of a carbon dioxide emissions fee applicable to the uses of fossil fuels.''

While a large majority of the participants wanted all countries to impose such taxes on carbons, they insisted the United States, which has lower gasoline taxes than other industrial countries, should act at once on fuel taxes.

But there was no consensus on whether to restrict the use of funds raised from taxes on gasoline and other carbon fuels only for developing safer technologies and other environmental purposes, rather than for other purposes. …