U.S. Backs Kyoto Lite; Administration Demonizes Carbon Dioxide

Article excerpt


Hard on the heels of President Bush's recent announcement of a plan to fight global warming, the administration's prime advocate of the new policy started handing out prizes to corporations she termed "Climate Leaders."

At a Feb. 20 ceremony, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman left no doubt that the administration, in a dramatic change in policy, was now demonizing carbon dioxide - the stuff we exhale, the stuff that makes plants grow. She effectively placed it on the White House list of evil-doers.

While the plan has been derided by green organizations as "Kyoto Lite" for its voluntary nature, the administration is clearly indicating that it will use its powers to reward companies that cut emissions and punish those that increase them. The big loser in the new policy will be America's Coal Country.

Since coal-fired utility plants emit more CO2 than natural-gas-fired plants, the new policy will discourage the use of coal - and the building of new coal-fired plants. It's hardly a surprise that one of Mrs. Whitman's "Climate Leaders" is Cinergy, a big natural-gas utility based in Cincinnati. (Another firm was Miller Beer. Are they making a new Miller Flat?)

According to Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, located in the state capital of Columbus, the administration's plan will have serious consequences for coal. "It's really disingenuous to say that you're not going to regulate CO2, but to then massively incentivize reductions in CO2 emissions. Regulating CO2 goes right to the core of the American economy, and will have disastrous consequences for coal-producing states like Ohio," he said.

It is a deadly serious fact that the policy strikes a severe blow against coal states like West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Those states are expected to be the main battleground for the 2004 presidential election, so the policy announced on Valentine's Day raises key political questions: Has Mr. Bush written-off the coal states in an attempt to win the votes of upscale urban voters and soccer moms in the Northeast and West? Is he now taking coal-state voters for granted? Or is he sacrificing potential Coal Country votes in an effort to stifle criticism from environmentalists, both at home and abroad?

A year ago, Mr. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol as "fatally flawed." Signed in 1997 by then-Vice President Al Gore but opposed by nearly the entire U.S. Senate, the treaty would have committed the United States to a significant reduction in its emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, which is a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels - used to power automobiles, factories and most utility plants.

The only realistic way to cut CO2 emissions is to cut energy use - at a cost to the economy of about $400 billion in annual output, based on Energy Department estimates using the Kyoto targets. "Most reasonable people," said Mr. Bush in June, "will understand that [Kyoto] is not sound public policy. …