March 6, 2002

March 6, 2002 | WebMemo on Energy and Environment

President Bush's Climate Change Proposal

Last March, President George W. Bush courageously rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In abandoning the agreement, the President cited the uncertainty of the science, the lack of commercially available technology, the loss of American jobs, and disruptions to the U.S. economy it would cause if the drastic cuts in carbon dioxide called for in the Protocol were implemented. The scientific and economic rationales for abandoning the Protocol are as relevant today as they were then. It is disconcerting then, that President Bush endorses an initiative to reduce these emissions.

President Bush recently unveiled his Global Climate Change policy to combat so-called global warming. The President's climate change policy sets a goal to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years. To achieve this reduction, the plan sets up a "voluntary" scheme to reduce these emissions. It expands the current voluntary emission reduction registration program under 1605(b) of the 1992 Energy Policy Act to provide credit to those firms that reduce their emissions, ensure that those businesses that register reductions will not be penalized under future climate policy, and calls for a review of the plan in 2012 to determine whether this goal has been met. It suggests that additional measures, such as a mandatory cap and trade regulatory program for carbon dioxide, will be imposed on businesses if they fail to meet this goal. This policy is inconsistent with the President' position on the Kyoto Protocol and his commitment to ensure reliable and affordable energy to American families and businesses.

The President's plan does, however, acknowledge the scientific uncertainties of climate change and the need for more information and advanced technologies to study this issue. Given the ongoing debate on global warming, this is the direction the President should lead the world. The President's commits $4.5 billion in climate change spending in fiscal year 2003, including $1.7 billion for basic scientific research on climate change and $1.3 billion for advanced energy and sequestration technologies. While the amount of federal dollars dedicated for climate change study is debatable, the President's insistence that Washington have a sound basis for determining climate change policy is not.

Likewise the President's resolve to sustain economic growth while conducting further research on global warming is vital. Economic growth advances innovations that lead to cleaner air and more efficient technologies. Yet, the President's plan undermines economic growth with its cap and trade scheme. While the program to reduce carbon dioxide is voluntary, it sets up a structure for mandatory reductions in the future. As the President noted in rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, such mandatory reductions would hurt American workers and the U.S. economy. This "voluntary" program sends a mixed message to businesses and investors as to the President's commitment to economic growth and prosperity.

The science on global warming is uncertain and unsettled. Before Washington mandates reductions in carbon dioxide that would drastically raise the price of energy, harm the U.S. economy, and place the United States at a competitive disadvantage, policy makers need to complete their homework. Committing federal funds to sound research and innovative technologies is the sensible approach to unlocking the mysteries of climate change. Regrettably, the President's Climate Change policy proposes a regulatory structure to a problem before there is conclusive evidence that a problem exists.

Charli E. Coon, J.D., is Senior Policy Analyst for Energy and the Environment in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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