Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US in Kyoto: Alone Again? as Conference Enters Week 2, Clinton Stuck between Green Goals and Skeptical Citizens

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US in Kyoto: Alone Again? as Conference Enters Week 2, Clinton Stuck between Green Goals and Skeptical Citizens

Article excerpt

The failed attempt to reform the US health-care system. The narrow defeat of efforts to win "fast track" trade negotiating authority from Congress. And now ... global warming. Clinton White House policy flop?

Vice President Al Gore may yet swing the rest of the world the US way next week when he stops by the international global-warming conference in Kyoto, Japan. The US might tinker with its relatively minimalist proposed treaty, increasing chances of global- warming agreement.

But right now that doesn't look like a likely outcome. Instead, a conference that once seemed as if it might help build President Clinton's legacy has become something that US officials may just want to endure. One reason: surprisingly vehement domestic opposition. Some US business groups say the White House proposal goes too far - and they've flooded airwaves with antitreaty ads. Unions generally oppose the effort, saying it would cost US jobs. Even some farm groups don't like it. Absent a change in US mood, it would be hard to get bills associated with a global-warming pact through Congress. "We told administration policymakers over a year ago that they had to be much more pro- active in getting their {global warming} message out," says an environmental source. "The US public is not prepared to digest a policy that many scientists say is the right one," adds this environmentalist. The Clinton administration proposal calls for nations to cut emissions, which many scientists believe are heating the earth's atmosphere, to 1990 levels sometime between 2008 and 2012. Though somewhat vague on how this would be done, the plan does call for a global market in pollution permits. Much of the rest of the world thinks that the United States, the world's largest source of these greenhouse gases, should propose bigger cuts. The European Union, for instance, wants to reduce emissions 15 percent below 1990 levels. Whatever happens in Kyoto, the domestic side of this issue remains highly important to Clinton. The Senate would have to ratify any global-warming treaty. The full Congress would have to pass any legislation implementing changes in US law. And so far, the White House global warming effort is reminiscent of its most notable domestic policy flops in a number of uncomfortable ways. Too hasty? The first is haste. Like the proposed health-care rework, the global-warming policy is a complicated construct that represents a hard-won compromise between various factions within the administration. Hammering out such a position takes time - and the president didn't announce his global-warming stand publicly until an Oct. 22 speech at the National Geographic Society, only a few weeks before the Kyoto conference's December start. Such last-minute decisionmaking has been typical of many Clinton decisions - but it is also typical of many presidents' forays into complicated environmental policymaking. …

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