Air Date: Week of March 12, 1999
Senators from both sides of the aisle are backing an effort to reward U.S. companies who take measures to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases. Environmentalists complain that the bill, the "Credit for Early Action Act," contains too many loopholes and doesn't do enough to stop global warming at its source in industrialized countries. Support from key industry and utility groups bolsters the bill's chances. James Jones reports from Washington.
CURWOOD: On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have rekindled an effort to combat global warming. The Credit for Early Action Act aims to reward US companies that voluntarily cut emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. Last year a similar Congressional measure was filed too late for normal consideration, but the gesture did boost the US position during the climate change negotiations in Argentina. This time around the bill's chief sponsor, Rhode Island Republican John Chaffee, says he has hefty bipartisan backing. But as Jim Jones reports, many environmental groups aren't on board.
JONES: Senate backers of the bill cover a broad range. They include conservatives like Republican Connie Mack of Florida, who isn't convinced that human activity causes global warming, as well as lawmakers who have long warned of the dire consequences of climate change. Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, said the bill bridges a wide divide.
LIEBERMAN: This legislation, you might say, is not just bipartisan. It is aimed at being bilingual, which is to say, speaking in terms that we hope the combatants on both sides of the global-warming wars can understand and embrace.
JONES: This is how it would work. Companies that take measures to reduce greenhouse gases by improving efficiency, shifting to less polluting technologies, or even by planting trees, would rack up credits. Those credits could be used to offset requirements that might be mandated in years to come. The credits could also be traded or sold to other companies. The Environmental Defense Fund backs the plan. The group's executive director, Fred Krupp, calls the act the best hope for quick action on global warming, and says the measure can make its way through the Senate even though Senators don't appear ready to ratify the Kyoto treaty, an international effort to reduce global warming.
KRUPP: What this bill offers is a way that Senators who are for the ratification, as well as Senators who are, frankly, opposed to the ratification, can find a path forward. We see a need for legislation this year so we can begin to make reductions this year. The atmosphere can't afford the continuation of the status quo. Others may have a different sense of timing and strategy.
JONES: The others Fred Krupp is referring to are other environmental groups, who say the bill should only move forward with major alterations. John Passacantando is executive director of Ozone Action.
PASSACANTANDO: Environmentalists almost to a group oppose this bill as it's currently written, believe that it's counterproductive, believe that in name it sounds good; this wording, Company's Credit for Voluntary Early Action, but that in reality it's full of loopholes.
JONES: Many environmental activists say large utility companies had too strong a role in writing the bill. They complain that instead of creating incentives for domestic greenhouse gas reductions, the bill encourages companies to fund projects like tree planting abroad, where verification is difficult. The Sierra Club's Anne Mesnekopf says the bill should do more to stop emissions at their source in industrialized countries.
MESNEKOPF: We'd like to see a bill that requires domestic reductions. We'd like to see a bill that doesn't allow polluters to pollute more for planting trees. We'd like to see a bill that does not allow polluters to get credits for increasing their nuclear power output. And we'd like to see a bill that does not give credits for purely alleging that you reduced your pollution in the past.
JONES: The Credit for Early Action Act has quickly gained momentum in the Senate, although it has detractors there. Senators like Republican Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, complain that the measure essentially implements the unratified Kyoto treaty, putting the cart, the Senator says, before the horse. But this measure is less controversial and has more support in the business community than a similar effort last year, in part because it doesn't call for amending the Clean Air Act. The White House is encouraging credit for early action, although it hasn't come out in support of this bill or announced a plan of its own. For Living on Earth, I'm James Jones in Washington.
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