- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Today and tomorrow, the Senate is expected to spend six hours of floor time debating the Climate Stewardship Act, co-sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat. Considering its doubtful mitigation effects and certain economic costs, Congress would do well to spend nothing more than time on the legislation.

The bill is a light version of the Kyoto Protocol. While Kyoto would require emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be cut to 1990 levels by 2012, McCain-Lieberman would require that such emissions be cut to 2000 levels by 2010. Earlier this month, Messrs. McCain and Lieberman agreed to eliminate the second phase of the cuts, which would reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2015. (They promised to push for this phase later.)

Doing that could have a cumulative cost of over $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to an analysis of the legislation done by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). (The analysis included a few optimistic estimates on the economy’s ability to compensate for the imposed costs.) The EIA report also predicted that by 2025, the price of gasoline would rise by about one-third and the price of electricity by about 50 percent.

Those are startling numbers, regardless of the considerable uncertainties involved. Similar economic likelihoods led Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from ratification of Kyoto. Australia has also refused to go along.

In contrast to the near-consensus among economists about high costs of emissions caps on carbon dioxide, there is still no agreement among scientists on how those emissions may be contributing to climate change. The systems are too complex, and there are too many variables involved for a clear-cut answer.

However, it is widely acknowledged that Kyoto-style caps would have little effect on climate change. An article on technologies that might be useful in reaching such targets published in the journal Science about a year ago pointed out that “Kyoto is too weak … because much greater emission reductions will be needed and we lack the technology to make them.”

Emissions reductions and economic growth will have to go hand-in-hand — as the Science piece noted, “Energy is critical to global prosperity and equity.” In an op-ed opposite this page, Margo Thorning points out that encouraging the development of new energy production technologies with reduced greenhouse gas emissions is a wise goal for policy-makers.

The administration has already been doing so, with initiatives on clean coal and hydrogen fuel cells. Although critics have castigated the administration for faintheartedness in refusing to act on either McCain-Lieberman or Kyoto, it takes courage to go against the clamor of the chattering class.

The vote on McCain-Lieberman may give the administration’s opponents a new set of talking points. However, it should not sway the administration in its determination to avoid costly, ineffective strictures like McCain-Lieberman or Kyoto. Time and technology may yet provide the best solutions to climate change.

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