- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

The Clinton administration is proposing "loopholes" in the global-warming treaty that are so big the United States could get away with doing almost nothing to comply, environmentalists say.

A key negotiating session to make final decisions on how to comply with the treaty, which requires cuts in the emissions from cars and power plants thought to be warming the Earth's atmosphere, is scheduled only days after the U.S. elections.

Several leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, are threatening to withdraw support for the treaty if the loopholes are approved.

Environmentalists say they are disappointed with the way President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have handled this year's energy price crunch. Instead of taking steps to promote energy conservation, the administration has lobbied the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to pump more oil and took the unprecedented step of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to drive down oil prices.

By contrast, environmentalists praise the example set by European leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who have refused to back off increased fuel taxes they are imposing to curb global warming even in the face of widespread protests against those taxes.

"The Clinton administration has been undermining the climate treaty for several years, insisting on one loophole after another to weaken it," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, who estimated the United States could get out of 75 percent to 100 percent of the emissions reductions required by the treaty using the loopholes.

"Continued burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change. Yet their response is identical to what politicians did 30 years ago: secure more oil," he said.

Mr. Passacantando particularly faults Mr. Gore, who in his book "Earth in the Balance" described global warming as the primary threat facing mankind and took a personal hand in drafting the treaty. "Politicians are giving us the same answers, but with Gore, he knows better," the environmentalist said.

The administration is trying to "solve global warming with their lawyers and with legal sleight of hand" to avoid having to carry out a nearly one-third reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States required by the treaty, he said.

White House spokesman Paul Bledsoe said all of the proposals were agreed to as part of the framework for the treaty at negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

"They are integral not only to cost-effectiveness, but to providing environmental integrity" to the treaty, he said.

Several of the measures reflect the administration's efforts "to involve developing nations in establishing energy infrastructures" that also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, he said.

The Senate, which has not ratified the treaty, unanimously approved a resolution stipulating that the treaty must cause no economic harm to the United States and include participation by developing countries.

The biggest loophole, environmentalists say, is one that would enable U.S. power plants and businesses to avoid cutting emissions by planting and cultivating forests in America and in developing countries. Trees absorb carbon dioxide the chief greenhouse gas that is thought to cause global warming enabling countries to emit more of the gas.

A second escape hatch decried by environmentalists is a provision that would enable U.S. businesses to achieve the required emissions reductions by building nuclear power plants in developing countries. Nuclear power plants emit few greenhouse gases, but environmentalists strongly oppose them out of fear of nuclear accidents and radioactive emissions.

A third tactic the United States wants to use to avoid drastic cuts in energy use by American businesses and consumers is an emissions-trading system that enables U.S. companies to purchase credits for emissions reductions achieved by other countries.

"We're supportive of cost-effective measures, but there has to be some environmental benefit," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Campaign. "If it's business as usual, but just looks like you're complying, it's not going to fly with the World Wildlife Fund."

Under administration proposals, she estimates the United States could achieve half of its emissions reductions by doing nothing but continuing the same forestry techniques now practiced by federal agencies to manage the vast national forests.

Even before it came out with a strategy of relying on such carbon "sinks," the White House estimated the United States could achieve 85 percent of its emissions reductions abroad instead of at home by buying credits under the emissions-trading system.

"The World Wildlife Fund believes the majority of emissions reduction should happen in the United States since it is the world's biggest carbon polluter," Ms. Morgan said. "We're going to have to kick the oil and coal habit."

The United States must move vigorously to impose higher fuel-efficiency standards on automakers, tighten energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, and impose carbon emissions caps on power plants, she said.

The World Wildlife Fund is one of 10 environmental groups that warned this summer that they would walk away from the treaty if too many countries are allowed to wriggle out of their commitments, like the United States. Ms. Morgan said that is still a possibility, though she is hopeful that the November negotiations at the Hague will be successful.

Eight leading environmental groups wrote Mr. Clinton last week citing "loopholes so large that the protocol would not result in any real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions" and urged him to attend the November negotiating sessions and reverse the administration's perceived lax policies.

Attempts to take advantage of existing forestry practices are "phony" and "unacceptable," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's fuzzy math to do nothing and get credit for tons of reductions.

"They're clearly trying to make it as easy as possible for the United States," he said, noting the contrast in the European Union. "Europeans are looking at increased carbon and energy taxes as a major tool of implementation, and we haven't seen any evidence that's being reconsidered as a result of [this fall's] street disruptions."

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