- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

Vice President Al Gore made a last-minute concession to environmentalists just before the election to oppose any increased use of nuclear power to comply with the global-warming treaty.

The change appears aimed not only at appeasing environmentalists, but bridging differences with European nations who oppose the use of nuclear power to comply with the treaty, which Mr. Gore was instrumental in drafting in Kyoto, Japan, three years ago.

Yet, by taking away one major option for American companies to meet the stiff emissions cuts required under the treaty, Senate aides say the move will only harden opposition to the treaty in the Senate, where ratification has long been in doubt.

Nuclear-power plants do not emit the gas that many scientists say is the chief cause of a recent warming of the earth's atmosphere: carbon dioxide. For that reason, the Clinton administration previously said that U.S. companies should be able to help Third World countries build nuclear-power plants as a way of complying with the treaty.

Environmentalists stridently oppose the U.S. position, however, and in states such as Oregon and Washington, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader tapped into that opposition to siphon away votes from Mr. Gore prompting the Democratic candidate's apparent reversal on Nov. 3.

"I do not support any increased reliance on nuclear energy," Mr. Gore stated in a one-paragraph letter to Harvey Wasserman of the Nuclear Information and Resources Center. The letter states what he called his "long-held policy" on nuclear power.

"I have disagreed with those who would classify nuclear energy as clean or renewable" not only for purposes of the global-warming treaty, but as part of any federal legislation to restructure the electricity industry, he said.

The anti-nuclear environmental group is trumpeting Mr. Gore's letter as a change of heart. The administration's chief negotiator at The Hague, Netherlands, where details of the treaty are being finalized this week, appeared to confirm the change.

"We have long had concerns about nuclear energy. Those concerns relate to safety, waste disposal, nonproliferation, costs and public acceptance," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David B. Sandalow.

Aides to Mr. Gore said he has no plans to attend the negotiations at The Hague that started this week and continue through Dec. 1. But they did not rule out a last-minute appearance like the one he made in Kyoto that enabled negotiators to clinch agreement on the sweeping emissions-reductions requirements of the treaty.

The nuclear question is one of the top issues that must be resolved if The Hague negotiations are to succeed. The United States in the past has pushed for as much flexibility as possible to make it easier for companies in the United States to achieve the drastic one-third cut in emissions required by the treaty.

Another important measure at stake in the negotiations is the use of forests and other green spaces to comply with the treaty. The world's vast forests absorb much of the carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and cars, and the U.S. is advocating reforestation as a way of complying with the treaty.

Under the administration's negotiating position, the United States could achieve half of the 600 million tons of carbon reductions it must achieve each year under the treaty simply by protecting its existing forests. Australia, Canada, Japan and many Latin American nations with large rain forests have aligned themselves with the United States.

The European Union, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and other major environmental groups are strongly opposed, however, arguing at The Hague this week that Americans are trying to get away with doing very little to curb their voracious appetite for cars and electricity. The U.S. uses about one quarter of the world's energy.

Environmentalists appear to be split over the issue, however. The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday released a statement signed by 110 environmental researchers, including a Nobel Prize winner, saying forests should be counted as carbon "sinks" under the treaty.

They said it would help to protect endangered rain forests from the logging and clear-cutting that are the biggest threats facing the Amazon in Brazil and Orinoco basin in Venezuela. Those dense forests are sometimes called "the lungs of the planet" because they absorb so much carbon.

Peter Frumhoff of the scientists' union, a specialist on the role that forests play in trapping carbon emissions, said the treaty should be used to preserve and enlarge forests if only because a quarter of the carbon build-up in the atmosphere each year is caused by burning and deforestation, mostly of rain forests.

"Since forests are 25 percent of the problem, they ought to be a major part of the solution," he said, though he added that the rules should be stricter than the "business as usual" forestry practices being advocated by the United States.

Europeans and environmentalists also took a hard stand at The Hague this week against a U.S. proposal to allow countries like the United States to buy "credits" for emissions reductions from countries like Russia, which already is well below its emissions target because of a collapsed economy.

"So far, I haven't seen anyone move their position by one centimeter," Raul Estrada, Argentina's environmental representative, told reporters at the negotiations.

Another major sticking point is the demand for compensation from Third World countries that produce oil and would be hit hard by the major reductions in energy use mandated by the treaty.

Saudi Arabia, one of the richest oil-producing producers, claims that it would lose $25 billion a year as a result of the treaty, and it wants reparations. "There will be no outcome if our concerns are not adequately addressed," Mohammed Sabban, head of the Saudi delegation, said at the conference.

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