White House undermining environment summit - senator
Author: Chris Baltimore
Some 100 heads of state are expected to attend the summit, which will focus on the Kyoto treaty's aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries, as well as the clean water, sanitation and electricity needs of developing nations.
The United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are produced by automobiles and electric utilities.
Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont independent who chairs the Senate's environmental panel, accused the White House of trying to "keep global climate change off of the agenda" at the Johannesburg meeting.
The administration will likely send a "smaller and lower-level delegation that has sought to narrow the scope of the discussions," Jeffords said at a Senate hearing on international environmental treaties.
Many Democrats and environmental groups criticized President George W. Bush's decision last year to pull the United States out of the Kyoto treaty, which would have required it to cut greenhouse gas emissions seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Bush said the targets would be too costly for the U.S. economy.
Japan, all 15 European Union members and a dozen other nations have signed the treaty. It is expected to be ratified by enough countries by the end of the year to go into effect.
Bush administration officials testified that, while the U.S. delegation to the Johannesburg meeting has not yet been chosen, the White House is committed to act on global warming.
The Washington delegation may be led by Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, although a final decision has not yet been made, according to John Turner, an assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department.
Some countries that support the Kyoto treaty are also trying to downplay the issue at the summit meeting, Turner said.
"Many of the advocates of Kyoto hope to keep it off the agenda because they want ratification of the treaty. They don't want countries to come and start renegotiating, seeking more advantages in the Kyoto process," Turner told reporters after the hearing.
The summit would accomplish more by focusing on other environmental issues, he said.
The Bush administration views clean water and health issues as the top two U.S. priorities at the environmental summit, Turner said.
"Taking care of the environment means talking care of people," he said.
During the hearing, the administration officials reminded the senators of a White House proposal for U.S. companies to voluntarily cut greenhouse gas emission "intensity" by 18 percent over the coming decade. The proposal, which is due to be finalized by January 2004, would also allow companies to trade emissions credits.
The plan has been criticized by green groups, which say it would allow greenhouse gases to rise in tandem with the U.S. economy instead of requiring real cuts.
The administration wants to hold U.S. greenhouse gas emissions "at a level that will prevent dangerous interference with the climate," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. But "given current scientific uncertainties, no one knows what that level is," he told the Senate panel.
The Kyoto treaty would have cost the U.S. economy $400 billion and wiped out as many as 4.9 million jobs, according to White House calculations.