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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate Action on the Hill

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington on some small but symbolically significant steps on climate change policy: a Senator who led the charge against Kyoto now wants the U.S. to take action; and President Bush hints at talking climate with European leaders.


CURWOOD: So, the United States is not a party to the Kyoto Accord, but as Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports, there are voices calling for action to reduce greenhouse gases echoing through the halls of Congress. And one of them belongs to the senator who was a leader in the first charge against Kyoto.

YOUNG: Seven years ago Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel co-sponsored a non-binding resolution that effectively killed Kyoto in the U.S. Senate. Hagel railed against the treaty's costs to the economy and its lack of any requirements for developing countries to cut emissions. His speeches to business groups were peppered with references to the leading climate change skeptics. Hagel is still talking about Kyoto and climate. But now the setting and tone are decidedly different.

HAGEL: Achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is one of the most important challenges of our time. It is a shared responsibility for all nations.

YOUNG: That's Senator Hagel speaking at the liberal Washington think-tank, the Brookings Institution.

Quotes from climate skeptics are gone and he now calls Kyoto a flawed, though "noble" effort. In recent weeks, Hagel's talked climate change with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's even addressed a United Nations climate change panel - all in a push to get the U.S. back in the global warming discussion.

HAGEL: I would hope that the Bush administration would get engaged. And, I will make this a priority. I will continue to push on this. We have been out of the game for four years. That's dangerous, it's irresponsible, and we need to address it.

YOUNG: Hagel has introduced legislation that would foster new carbon-capturing technology in the U.S. and make that technology available to developing nations. But Hagel's proposal stops short of actually regulating any carbon emissions. That puts him at odds with the leading climate change bill in Congress, the Climate Stewardship Act, written by Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican John McCain. The senators say a modest cap on C02, with an emissions trading mechanism, is the best way to spur the development of new technology. Still, McCain says he's glad to have Hagel bring attention to the issue.

MCCAIN: We're always pleased to welcome those who have found themselves on the road to Damascus.

YOUNG: If you hear a touch of irony in McCain's voice it may be that he and Hagel are staking out ground on the global warming issue, positioning for possible runs for president. Yes, we did just finish an election. But here in Washington, eyes are already on 2008. McCain might also worry that Hagel's bill will sap votes from his own initiative. The last Congress defeated the McCain-Lieberman bill, but it won a respectable 43 votes, and the new version of the bill picked up more co-sponsors from both parties. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is on board and says she also hears new support from some U.S. businesses. Snowe says the implementation of the Kyoto treaty changes the playing field in international markets.

SNOWE: Foreign companies and our allies participating in that process are gonna be developing cutting edge technology that could put our companies at a disadvantage. And I think companies in America are beginning to realize that and they're realizing the net positive effects.

YOUNG: There's certainly no rush by business to embrace carbon caps. The major lobbies for the electric power and manufacturing industries still oppose the McCain-Lieberman bill, calling it "energy rationing." But former Clinton administration official Frank Loy, a veteran of climate change talks, now with the non-profit, Resources for the Future, says business attitudes are slowly changing. Loy says some utility executives have quietly admitted that they think a carbon cap is inevitable and acceptable.

LOY: And, why are they not vocal? They're not vocal because they are somewhat afraid of crossing the administration on an important issue.

YOUNG: The Bush administration had been largely silent on climate change since withdrawing from Kyoto negotiations, until just the other day.

BUSH: This isn't the question on the environment, but I was hoping somebody would ask it. I asked myself, anyway, let me, hehe...
YOUNG: At a recent press conference, Bush turned a question about relations with Europe into a brief summary of the U.S. stance on climate. He restated his opposition to Kyoto, but opened the door a bit to the possibility of new international talks focusing on the role of technology.

BUSH: I spoke to my friend Tony Blair the other day and I reminded him that, here at home, we're spending billions on clean coal technology where we can have conceivable and hopeful, we'll have a zero emissions, coal plan. Which would be not only good for the United States, but it would be good for the world.

YOUNG: Bush and Blair will likely follow-up on that conversation at the G8 summit this summer where Blair has promised to make climate change a top priority. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.

CURWOOD: Coming up, the environmental movement, dead or alive? We'll debate that question in just a minute. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Spencer Lewis "Symphony of the Arch" In the Bosom of the Green Mountains (Quartz Recordings, 1989)]



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