Few Takers For Bush Climate Plan

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Only a tiny fraction of American companies that pollute have signed up for President Bush's voluntary program to reduce emissions of gasses that many scientists believe cause global warming, a newspaper reports.

James L. Connaughton, the White House environmental policy chief, said recently that private firms "are stepping up to the plate in a way they never have -- never did in the 1990s. That's a huge step."

But the Washington Post reports only 50 companies have signed up to be "Climate Leaders," the name of the administrations program inviting businesses to pledge to reduce their emissions by 10 percent.

Of those 50, only 14 have established goals to reduce emissions of gasses like carbon dioxide that are suspected of raising world temperatures, leading to possible effects like altered weather patterns, disappearing habitats for key species and rising sea levels, the Post reports.

The voluntary program was Mr. Bush's alternative to the mandatory reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on greenhouse gasses that the president exited during his first year in office.

Mr. Bush and others complained that Kyoto left a heavy burden for industrial countries like the United States —historically the biggest polluters — while largely exempting developing countries like China, which will be much more significant polluters in the future. The president said Kyoto's cut would have cost American jobs.

But experts have question the efficacy of the voluntary measures Mr. Bush put in Kyoto's place.

The White House said its goal was to gut emissions of greenhouse gasses by 18 percent over 10 years. But the General Accounting Office found that the Bush program would actually reduce emissions only 2 percent, the Post reports.

Climate Leaders is just one of the programs the EPA has championed under Mr. Bush.

Others include Energy Star, which labels products with data on their energy usage; the Green Power initiative, under which companies buy power from sources that limit environmental damage; and the Smartway program, which targets emissions reductions in the transport industry.

According to the Post, the administration has also pushed for world climate monitoring, a crackdown on illegal logging and cleaner fuel technology.

But environmentalists say the administration has adopted a lax approach whenever powerful industries are concerned.

Recently, the EPA proposed giving power plants up to 15 years to install technology to reduce mercury pollution in a move that would ease limits envisioned by the Clinton administration, while requiring immediate action in some cases.

In a related measure, EPA proposed that power plants in 30 states cut smog- and soot-forming chemicals from their smokestacks. EPA estimates the industry will pay at least $5 billion to comply with both programs.

The EPA already changed its rules to allow old power plants to escape Clean Air regulations under some circumstances, and said this summer it lacked authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. Both moves were cheered by industry.

From environmentalists, there was anger that a new 10-year, $103 million federal science research plan had as its top goal the study of "natural variability" in climate change. Environmentalists said that focus ignored the human causes of greenhouse gas emissions and their climate effects.

And in a major report on the state of the environment, the EPA reportedly removed sections containing strong language stating that "climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment" and that recent climate change is "likely mostly due to human activities." Instead, the report merely said that it "does not attempt to address the complexities of this issue."