- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

A leading Senate Republican yesterday introduced legislation creating tax incentives for U.S. companies to work with developing countries to stop the destruction of tropical rain forests.

The bill, offered by Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, was touted by environmentalists and industry groups alike as an example of what the United States can do to curb a major source of greenhouse gases that currently is not covered by the global warming treaty rejected by President Bush.

The Bush administration, which has shown interest in the proposal, is seeking ways to involve developing countries in the quest to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions thought to be warming the Earth's atmosphere. It also wants to achieve such cuts without harming the U.S. economy.

The bill would address both of Mr. Bush's concerns, since the slashing and burning of forests, mostly in tropical regions of the Third World, is responsible for one-fifth of the carbon released into the atmosphere each year. And U.S. businesses would benefit modestly from the $200 million a year in tax breaks in the bill.

Mr. Brownback said he wants to "contribute to the solution on climate change and help to reshape the way we view environmental problems."

The Senate, like Mr. Bush, has overwhelmingly rejected terms of the Kyoto treaty that could impose harsh constraints on U.S. economic growth while exempting developing countries from having to curb their greenhouse gases.

"We should move forward," Mr. Brownback said, "by engaging developing nations rather than cutting them out of the process."

Environmentalists say the proposal would enable the United States to achieve about 10 percent of the cuts in carbon dioxide called for under the global warming treaty drafted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 though the treaty as written would prohibit the United States from getting credit for such forest-saving measures.

The bill also addresses other serious environmental problems associated with clear-cutting, including the rapid disappearance of thousands of species of plants and animals that reside in the tropics, some of which may hold the keys to solving medical problems.

The bill's tax credits would be given to companies that invest in projects in Brazil, Bolivia and other Third World countries that prevent further deforestation of their rain forests or replant areas that have been cleared. A panel of energy and environmental experts would determine which projects get credits.

The bill has attracted the support of an unusual coalition of environmental and industry groups, including Environmental Defense, the National Environmental Trust, the Nature Conservancy and the American Electric Institute.

Environmentalists said they also are working with Senate Republicans on ways to encourage American farmers and ranchers to use land management and conservation techniques that absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help curb global warming.

"There is a way to chip away at environmental challenges, rather than demagoging an 'all-or-nothing' stance," said Mr. Brownback in addressing a group of students who traveled to Washington to push for the legislation.

"This is the way Washington is supposed to work," said Kevin Curtis, vice president of the National Environmental Trust. "Instead of going for headlines and posturing about Kyoto, we've moving toward solutions."

Robert Bonnie, an economist with Environmental Defense, noted that the huge contribution to global warming caused by deforestation has been largely ignored in the international negotiations over the Kyoto treaty.

The United States and a few allies, notably Australia and Canada, have tried to include deforestation remedies in the treaty, but their efforts have been spurned by the 15-nation European Union and Third World countries.

Brazil, which has the largest rain forest, the Amazon, is opposed to measures that would penalize clear-cutting. It wants the treaty to include only measures that encourage the replanting of cleared areas.

A compromise proposal drafted this month by Jan Pronk, a Dutch minister who currently is the president of the U.N. climate change conference, follows Brazil's wishes. It would allow the United States to take credit for the carbon-dioxide-absorbing powers of its own forests, but it specifically bars businesses from getting any credit for protecting rain forests, Mr. Bonnie said.

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