Clinton urges new clean air strategy to “significantly reduce emissions from US power plants”

In a live internet address to the nation, President Clinton called for a comprehensive new clean air strategy and reaffirmed US commitment to work with other nations to ensure “a strong, cost-effective agreement to fight global warming”.

Clinton made his address on 11 November as a precursor to The Hague’s negotiations on the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change. Contrary to what many believe, the United States has made significant progress in reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, the president said.

Following a recent report which concluded that pollution from US power plants is responsible for the early deaths of more than 30,000 Americans annually (see related story), Clinton called for a “four pollutant” comprehensive approach to limiting harmful emissions from electric power plants, which are the largest source of air pollution in the US, releasing more than two thirds of the nation’s sulphur dioxide, and approximately one third of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury emissions. This would establish national emissions standards, or ‘caps’ on these four pollutants via “a flexible and market-based emissions trading programme”, modelled on the Clean Air Act’s acid rain programme, which would allow the power sector to meet these strong goals in a cost-effective way, the president said. Clinton said that the approach had strong bipartisan support in Congress and among industry leaders.

Clinton said that he was acting on this year’s report on climate change impacts on the United States, requested by Congress, painting a pessimistic picture for the nation (see related story), and by the current talks in The Hague on global warming, by reaffirming the “strong commitment” of the United States to the issue. He said that he aimed to negotiate “a climate change treaty that has environmental integrity, is cost-effective, and promotes the meaningful participation of key developing countries in the fight against global warming”.

Clinton announced that in the negotiations, the United States would seek:

  • strong, market-friendly rules to fight climate change, and oppose restrictions on the use of the Kyoto Protocol’s “innovative” flexible mechanisms, such as emissions trading – which is predicted to conflict directly with the European Union position (see related story;
  • to urge an airtight accounting system and binding legal consequences for failure to meet targets;
  • appropriate credit for agricultural and forest sinks “which help sequester CO2” – however, a new report says that forests could actually have the opposite effect and increase global warming (see related story);
  • to urge a prompt start to the Clean Development Mechanism, to help developing nations establish clean energy infrastructures, with a plan to put the rules in place necessary to ensure its workable operation and environmental integrity.

The president also announced that the United States had made “significant progress in reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming”, citing figures showing that emissions grew by 1% percent in 1998 and 1999 while the overall Gross Domestic Product grew by 8%. Clinton said that these figures “suggest that efforts to increase energy efficiency and implement new technologies have begun to ‘de-link’ economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions”.

The President cited various examples of his administration’s effort to fight climate change:

  • a more than 50% increase in annual funding for improvements in efficiency and research and development to help foster new greener technologies (see related story and related story);
  • research by the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a joint business-government programme, leading to the development by the major car manufacturers that achieve 70 to 80 miles a gallon. These technologies, Clinton said, have also contributed to announcements by both Ford and General Motors that they will increase fuel economy in many large vehicles by 15-25% by 2005;
  • a series of Executive Orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions issued by the President, including efforts to triple the production of bio-energy and bio-fuels to 10% of US energy use by 2010, to decrease oil use in government vehicles by 20% by 2005, and increase energy efficiency of government buildings by 35% by 2010.

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