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Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Kerry and Bush sharply divided on response to global warming

By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter

DAMIAN DOVARGANES / AP
California has just adopted the world's first rules to reduce greenhouse emissions from autos. This photo shows pollution-producing traffic on Los Angeles freeways.
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President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry are sharply at odds on the issue of global warming, which many scientists rank as the greatest environmental challenge of our age.

Bush opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions from industrial plants, while Kerry backed a failed Senate bill seeking such regulation and fought unsuccessfully to improve the gas efficiency of U.S. automobiles.

The debate over what to do about global warming appears certain to intensify. A series of major studies in recent years has helped strengthen the scientific consensus about the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have always been released through natural processes such as forest fires, but industrial development and automobiles have been major new sources in the last century. Researchers are now assessing global warming's effects, which range from shrinking glaciers and reduced snowpacks to the greater chance of extreme weather such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.

Such predictions have prompted states to come up with their own plans for combating the problem. The governors of Washington, Oregon and California want to clamp down on tailpipe emissions and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas that industries pump out. A California plan approved last week would cut greenhouse-gas emissions from new California cars and light trucks by about 30 percent by 2016, compared with today's vehicles.

Here in Washington, the effort has drawn in government, unions, universities and even corporate representatives from Boeing and Weyerhaeuser, who gather at periodic meetings at the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

"We need to be moving ahead on this because the federal government is dropping the ball," said Carol Jolly, policy coordinator for Gov. Gary Locke.

Regional efforts also are under way in New England, the Midwest and even President Bush's home state of Texas, which is pushing development of more renewable-energy sources that do not produce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Bush on global warming

Bush agrees that global warning poses a threat. In 2002 remarks, he said it's "an issue with the potential to impact every corner of the world ... an issue that must be addressed."

During his 1999 campaign for the presidency, Bush endorsed federal regulation of carbon dioxide from a major source — U.S. power plants. But in early 2001 he backed away from such regulation amid pressure from coal and energy lobbyists, who claimed such action might sabotage the U.S. economy.
 
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Bush also dismissed the 1997 Kyoto treaty, a historic agreement to assign nations limits on the amounts of greenhouse gases they could release into the atmosphere. It was negotiated by more than 150 nations but never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Bush called the treaty an unrealistic, unscientific document that exempted major greenhouse polluters such as China and India while placing "arbitrary" greenhouse-gas caps on developed nations.

And in a much-publicized act, the Bush administration removed a chapter on the threats of global warming from a 2002 Environmental Protection Act report on air pollution.

White House officials reject the notion that Bush is not fully engaged in the fight to limit U.S. greenhouse gases. The Bush plan calls for investment in hydrogen and other alternative-energy sources, and financial incentives to use new technologies. And Bush calls for voluntary — rather than mandatory — efforts to curb greenhouse emissions from power plants.

"We do not believe there is a need, at this time, for a new overarching regulatory program that would cap and control carbon dioxide," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in an interview with The Seattle Times.

Connaughton said such a "wrong-headed" program would result in "devastating job loss" in America as energy-intensive industries shifted more production to countries that have no such restrictions.

The result would be a weaker America with no net global reduction in greenhouse gases because of the increased production elsewhere, Connaughton said.

Internationally, both Britain and the European Union have begun to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And British government officials say their initial efforts show there are plenty of ways to reduce these emissions without crippling their economy.

"We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 14 percent since 1990, and our economy has tripled," said Christian Turner, first secretary for energy and environment at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Kerry on global warming

Kerry, like Bush, opposed American participation in the current Kyoto treaty. In 1999, he joined in a 95-0 Senate vote that stated that the United States should not ratify the treaty unless China and other rapidly developing countries were also required to reduce greenhouse gases.

But Kerry, who has called pollution a "mortal threat" to the climate, wants to reopen the Kyoto negotiations to refashion an agreement acceptable to the United States.

And even without U.S. participation in the treaty, Kerry has backed mandatory efforts to control carbon dioxide.

His most high-profile effort was a 2002 bill that he and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., submitted to the Senate to force automakers to improve automobile efficiency.

The bill would have required that average fuel economy for autos sold in the U.S. to rise from 24 mpg to 36 mpg by 2015. Lower fuel consumption would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

That bill was opposed by the U.S. automotive industry and automotive unions, which argued that the target was too extreme. It failed to pass the Senate.

Kerry also supports at least modest federal caps on U.S. emissions of greenhouses gases, such as the caps contained in legislation submitted to the Senate last year by McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

That bill seeks to ensure that the overall U.S. emissions in 2010 would be no higher than the overall levels back in 2000.

Companies would be required to meet the standard by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions or by purchasing carbon credits from other companies whose emissions were at levels well below the federal caps.

The McCain-Lieberman bill was opposed by the Bush administration and defeated 55-43 in the Senate last year. It has been resubmitted this year.

Environmentalists had hoped that Kerry would give global warming a higher profile in his campaign for the presidency. But the issue has not generated much coverage.

"Long before he got the nomination, the environment was one of the two or three things that he campaigned on," said Denis Hayes, president of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation and a longtime friend of Kerry's. "But he could not get any coverage."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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