- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

President Bush yesterday vowed to dramatically slash air pollution and "stabilize" greenhouse gases through a voluntary system of tax breaks and not the forced restrictions of the Kyoto Protocol.

Even before Mr. Bush spoke at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, his plan was being criticized by Democrats. But the president insisted that the Kyoto treaty is unworkable.

"The approach taken under the Kyoto Protocol would have required the United States to make deep and immediate cuts in our economy to meet an arbitrary target," he said. "It would have cost our economy up to $400 billion and we would have lost 4.9 million jobs."

With the economy already in recession, Mr. Bush rejected such draconian regulations in favor of tax incentives and tradable anti-pollution credits.

"This new approach is based on this common-sense idea: That economic growth is key to environmental progress," the president said. "Because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies."

Sen. John Kerry accused Mr. Bush of trying to "use our economy as an excuse for inaction." The Massachusetts Democrat, who is considering a presidential run against Mr. Bush in 2004, also suggested the White House is kowtowing to business interests by giving them a decade in which to cut emissions.

"President Bush has offered the nation an environmental policy that is all procrastination and no progress," Mr. Kerry said. "It may well lead to more pollution, not less."

He added: "It protects special interests at the expense of the environment, public health and the broader economy."

But a senior administration official said letting businesses trade pollution credits in order to meet emissions caps is far more effective than traditional controls.

"Under traditional command-and-control regulation, everybody haggles over what the limits are, you have to get individualized permits, there's a compliance date that's out in time, and nobody has an incentive to improve until the compliance date kicks in," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "In fact, there's lots of litigation."

The official added: "So, unlike the current Clean Air Act, where you don't get compliance until the date gets imposed, this one is going to bring real numbers down."

Actually, the president's plan, which he dubbed the "Clean Skies Act," is modeled after an experimental component of the Clean Air Act that has allowed businesses to trade credits in sulfur-dioxide emissions since 1995.

"This system has reduced more air pollution in the last decade than all other programs under the 1990 Clean Air Act combined, and by even more than the law required," Mr. Bush said.

"Compliance has been virtually 100 percent," he added. "It takes only a handful of employees to administer this program. And no one had to enter a courtroom to make sure the reductions happened."

This absence of litigation is at the heart of the president's plan to drastically reduce the cost of cleaner air.

"Because the system gives businesses an incentive to create and install innovative technologies, these reductions have cost about 80 percent less than expected," the president said. "This new approach will harness the power of markets, the creativity of entrepreneurs."

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement saying voluntary standards didn't work in Texas when Mr. Bush was governor.

"Under Bush's leadership in Texas, the state led the country in industrial pollution," the DNC said. "Is this really who we want creating an alternative plan to Kyoto?"

But the president insisted he would cut the amount of greenhouse gases the United States emits per dollar of gross domestic product by 18 percent within 10 years, which Mr. Bush said would reduce the "intensity" of the problem.

"We will cut sulfur-dioxide emissions by 73 percent from current levels," Mr. Bush said. "We will cut nitrogen-oxide emissions by 67 percent. And for the first time ever, we will cap emissions of mercury, cutting them by 69 percent."

If these goals are not met, Mr. Bush said additional incentives can be implemented after 2012.

Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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