Now that Bill Clinton and Al Gore have vacated the White House, President George W. Bush should seize the opportunity to finally rid the nation of one of the former Administration's most unwanted and potentially costly legacies - the Kyoto global warming treaty and other proposals to regulate carbon dioxide.
Negotiated by the Clinton/Gore Administration in December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol would require the U.S. and other industrialized nations to make economically-drastic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Then-Vice President Gore and environmental groups made shrill, scientifically-unsupported arguments that carbon dioxide emissions are dangerously heating the planet, and that the Kyoto treaty is vital to saving the Earth from the myriad of climatic apocalypses this human-induced warming would spawn.
Never mind that the most reliable scientific evidence lends no credence to these visions of climate doom. The most accurate barometers of global temperature, NASA weather satellites, show that the Earth has slightly cooled since 1979.1 In addition, one of the leading scientists promoting the global warming theory, Dr. James Hansen, says he now sees no evidence that carbon dioxide is even responsible for any global warming that occurred over the last several decades.2
Absent proof that it causes dangerous warming, carbon dioxide is simply what it is has always been: a benign, non-polluting substance that plants need to grow.
Besides the lack of scientific support for man-made warming, an even more compelling reason for President Bush to kill the Kyoto treaty is its prohibitive economic costs. According to a 1998 study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Kyoto treaty would cost the U.S. economy $400 billion per year, raise electric utility bills by 86%, hike the cost of heating oil by 76% and impose a permanent "Kyoto gasoline tax" of 66 cents per gallon. In total, if Kyoto were adopted each U.S. household would have to spend an extra $1,740 per year on energy.3
Given these unacceptable economic costs, during the presidential campaign, then-Governor Bush stated that he could not support the Kyoto treaty. Also, the Kyoto treaty's onerous carbon dioxide emission reduction targets run completely counter to President Bush's strong support for encouraging domestic energy development.4
President Bush should now submit the Kyoto treaty to the U.S. Senate for consideration - as required by the Constitution. But there is little doubt that the Kyoto treaty would be rejected by an overwhelming margin. In 1997, the Senate voted by 95 to 0 that the treaty was unacceptable given its economic burdens, a stark political reality that demonstrates that the Clinton/Gore Administration did not submit the treaty for fear of public humiliation.5
But while it is encouraging that our new President understands the economic and scientific arguments against Kyoto, it is nonetheless distressing that his Administration is still on record as supporting costly proposals to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The Bush campaign's official energy policy statement, issued in September 2000, specifically states that a Bush Administration would seek to "establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide." 6 There is no indication from an Administration official that that position has changed.
Let's hope that the President reconsiders the proposal to regulate carbon dioxide.
While not as stark as Kyoto, any domestic scheme to regulate carbon dioxide would impose unacceptable costs on the American economy.
A new EIA study shows that carbon dioxide regulation would add about $90 billion to the nation's electrical generating costs - with the consumer ultimately picking up the tab. Specifically, the EIA examines the economic impact of regulating carbon dioxide under a multi-pollutant strategy that would also include regulation of real pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. Besides the Administration's apparent support for such a regulatory scheme, there are already five bills before Congress that would authorize caps on carbon dioxide emissions through a multi-pollutant strategy.7
But both the President and Congress may first want to examine the EIA's ominous findings about the impact of carbon dioxide regulation on the U.S. economy.
Electricity prices are projected to increase by as much as 43% in 2010, with the average household having to divert an extra $200 from health care, housing and other vital necessities to pay the electric bill each year.8
The nation's economic growth rate would be reduced by 1.2% and the unemployment rate increased by 0.6% in 2005 - which translates into about 1 million people being thrown out of work.9
Many coal-fired power plants would have to be phased out because it would be economically prohibitive for power plant operators to pay the government to release carbon dioxide as would be mandated by a multi-pollutant regulatory plan. Natural gas prices - already soaring - would soar even more as utilities scramble to replace coal-burning plants with gas-burning plants. By 2010, the extra demand for natural gas caused by the government-mandated switch from coal would increase the price of gas more than 60%, from $2.68 per thousand cubic feet to $4.33 per thousand cubic feet. Overall, the nation's natural gas bill would increase by $25 billion.10
Surely, this is not what the Bush Administration means when it says it wants a new policy to increase the availability of affordable energy.
It is laudable that President Bush recognizes the economic harm in implementing the Kyoto treaty's sweeping carbon dioxide cuts especially in light of the growing scientific uncertainty about the validity of the global warming theory. But if it is economically and scientifically indefensible to require the American people to make economic sacrifices mandated by the Kyoto treaty, it is just as indefensible to ask Americans for economic sacrifices under a domestic carbon dioxide regulatory scheme.
Putting an end to the Kyoto treaty means not only killing the
treaty but killing all talk about regulating carbon dioxide as
1 Dr. Patrick Michaels, "Satellite Targeted
in the Hot Zone," The Washington Times, March 26, 1998.
2 David Wojick, "Hansen Plan Jolts Climate Community," Electricity Daily, September 2000.
3 "Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on the United States," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC, October 1998.
4 "A Comprehensive National Energy Policy," Energy and Natural Resources Policy Statement, Bush-Cheney 2000 Campaign, September 2000.
5 "Alternative to Kyoto Concedes Too Much," CEI On Point, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC, June 3, 1999.
6 "A Comprehensive National Energy Policy."
7 "Analysis of Strategies for Reducing Multiple Emissions from Power Plants: Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, and Carbon Dioxide," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC, January 2001.
John K. Carlisle is director of The National Center for Public Policy Research's Environmental Policy Task Force. He can be reached at [email protected].