Bush unveils voluntary plan to reduce global warming
SILVER SPRING, Maryland (CNN) -- President Bush Thursday unveiled a series of tax credits and other incentives to encourage business and farmers to reduce harmful emissions, a less stringent alternative to the international Kyoto treaty he rejected last year.
"America and the world share this common goal, we must foster economic growth in ways that protect our environment," Bush said at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. "We must encourage growth that will provide a better life for citizens, while protecting the land, the water, the air that sustain life."
But some Democrats, including former Vice President Al Gore, and environmental groups greeted the plan with criticism, noting that it was voluntary in nature.
"This policy, like the administration plans to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, keep us tied to the dangerous global oil politics that pose a grave threat to our national well-being," Gore, who opposed Bush in the 2000 presidential race, said in a news release.
Under his plan, Bush set a goal of the United States cutting the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent over 10 years. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions and economic output. This means that emissions will still continue to grow, but at a lower rate.
Bush called the Kyoto agreement, which 178 other nations accepted last year, an "unsound international treaty" and said he could not support it because it would result in deep cuts in the American economy and the loss of 4.9 million jobs. He also criticized it exempted developing nations and some large polluters, such as India.
He said his plan would prevent the release of about 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of 70 million cars from the road.
Under a separate plan called the "Clear Skies Initiative," Bush said emissions from sulfur dioxide would be cut by 73 percent, nitrogen oxides by 67 percent and mercury by 69 percent, all by 2018.
"This legislation will constitute the most significant step America has ever taken, has ever taken, to cut power plant emissions that contribute to urban smog, acid rain, and numerous health problems for our citizens," Bush said.
The president's global climate initiative is more modest than the estimated 33 percent reduction that the Kyoto agreement sought for the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kyoto agreement, which called for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels, required mandatory reductions, whereas the Bush plan would be voluntary.
"You can always put in mandatory in the future, if that's what you think you have to have," Christie Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency told CNN Thursday. "But let's get people to put their creativity behind finding the solutions which they do far more rapidly if it is voluntary than if it's mandatory."
But some lawmakers said the plan fell short.
"The president, with all due respect, just can't have it both ways," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts. "You can't back policies that will increase pollution and then turn around and in your rhetoric mislead the American people by claiming to be helping the environment."
The president faced tremendous criticism from environmental groups and U.S. allies, including Japan, for rejecting Kyoto. The Kyoto treaty was named after the Japanese city where the treaty was negotiated and signed.
The timing of Bush's announcement comes as he prepares to travel to Asia, with visits planned to Japan, South Korea and China. The president wanted to unveil an alternative to Kyoto before the trip.
As part of the "Clear Skies Initiative, " Bush called for a "cap-and-trade" program, allowing businesses that fall below the caps to sell credits to larger businesses, so those businesses could meet the new guidelines.
The goals include cutting emissions of sulfur dioxide, believed to be responsible for acid rain, from 11 million tons to 3 million tons; nitrogen oxides, which contribute to urban smog, from 5 million tons to 1.7 million tons, and mercury from 48 tons to 15 tons, all by 2018.
Bush said the program will work because it provides financial incentives to businesses and is based on the success of the trading program already in place to combat acid rain.
The president also called on Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to develop a plan so that businesses that implement voluntary reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will not be penalized if climate policy is changed in the future.
Finally, Bush's plan includes $4.5 billion in next year's budget for global climate change programs, a $700 million increase over this year's budget, according to the White House.
This money includes the first year of funding for a five-year, $4.6 billion program for tax credits for businesses pursuing renewable energy sources, the White House said.
--CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report
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