Saturday, November 1, 2003

Thought the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming was dead? Think again. At least that’s what Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, were hoping. In what many thought was a Halloween trick, the two senators tried to bring Kyoto back from the dead with a bill — the “Climate Stewardship Act” — that sought to unilaterally impose many of Kyoto’s restrictions. This despite the fact Kyoto had already experienced three strikes. Let’s call this 55-43 defeat strike four.

The first strike came in 1997. Both senators voted with the rest of the Senate to unanimously tell the Clinton administration that signing on to any climate control agreement that “could result in serious harm to the U.S. economy, including serious job loss, trade disadvantages, increased energy and consumer costs, or any combination thereof.”

It was clear to everyone at the time that what was emerging from Kyoto fell under this banner. Understanding this reality, the Clinton administration — which had been chiefly responsible for negotiating the accord — promised not to submit it to the Senate for ratification.

The second strike came when President Bush concurred with the 1997 Senate resolution and also promised never to submit Kyoto to the Senate. This created a little more controversy among environmental activists because Mr. Bush also expressed skepticism about the science underlying the global-warming theory and asserted his intention to examine alternatives to restrictions required under Kyoto. It also created controversy because they realized he actually meant it.

The third strike came a few weeks ago when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced at the World Climate Change Conference in Moscow that Russia likely will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol either, because it would prevent him from accomplishing his goal of doubling the size of Russia’s economy in 10 years.

Even more disheartening for Kyoto’s proponents, was Mr. Putin’s statement that he doesn’t believe we know why temperatures are rising, how recent trends relate to long-term temperature variations and, above all, whether changing human behavior would matter to any of this.

This is especially important to Kyoto supporters worldwide, because at this point Russia can effectively veto the international treaty. The treaty requires countries representing 55 percent of emissions to sign in order to go into effect. Since the U.S. is not going to join, it is impossible to reach that required percentage without Russia, which accounts for 17 percent of global emissions.

Apparently Sens. McCain and Lieberman have forgotten their votes back in 1997. That’s the only explanation for why they are pushing an anti-air pollution proposal that is, in effect, a back-door attempt to unilaterally implement Kyoto’s restrictions without having to get it ratified. The bill would have required the commercial, industrial, transportation and electrical power sectors in the U.S. to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010, and to 1990 levels by 2016.

What impact would this have had on the U.S. economy? According to an analysis by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Congressional Budget Office, it would be disastrous. For example, the restrictions would have likely increased energy costs by 30-50 percent, and reduce U.S. GDP by $106 billion. That amounts to a tax increase of about $1,000 on every American household.

Specifically, the proposed restrictions would drastically reduced the use of coal. Some environmental activists would applaud this, but it would likely eliminate more than 50,000 coal industry jobs. Not exactly a recipe for an economic recovery. And it’s not just coal. The EIA study concludes the price of natural gas would increase 16 percent in 2010 and 46 percent in 2025.

What impact would this all have had on consumer spending, which many acknowledge has saved the economy in recent years? The EIA study concludes: “Because of lower real disposable income resulting from higher prices for energy, consumers will reduce overall spending and savings. Energy services also represent a key input in the production of goods and services. As energy prices increase, the costs of production rise, placing upward pressure on the nominal prices of all intermediate goods and final goods and services in the economy, with widespread impacts on spending across many markets.”

If enacting these restrictions would save the world from environmental collapse, as many environmental activists would have us believe, it might be worth the economic pain. One problem though, neither Kyoto nor McCain-Lieberman’s Kyoto Lite would have any impact on future global warming. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, if all the signatories meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets, the temperature difference would be so small it couldn’t be measured by ground-based temperature gauges.

Neither economics nor science support the restrictions called for by either Kyoto or McCain-Lieberman. Despite this defeat, Mr. McCain vows to continue bringing this back until it passes, much like he did with campaign finance reform. Yet this is not batting practice. It’s time to tell them to go back to the bench instead of holding up the Senate because they want another pitch.

Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, is the policy chairman of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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