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EPA praises voluntary emissions reduction

From Brad Wright

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Wednesday put a spotlight on 11 companies which are cutting emissions voluntarily, even as critics said the administration is not doing enough to cut back on emissions believed to be warming the earth's atmosphere.

Steelmakers, electric utilities, producers of household cleaners and brewers were among the firms honored by the Environmental Protection Agency for voluntary efforts in cutting greenhouse gases, believed to cause global warming.

Most important, according to administration officials: the firms were doing it their way.

Last week, Sens. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, criticized the administration's policy because it does not require the companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bush administration responded that market incentives, rather than mandatory standards, would be more effective because they would induce companies to voluntarily reduce greenhouse emissions.

"We do a whole lot better when we can get corporations to willingly step forward and say they're going to be aggressive about reducing their greenhouse gas emissions than for us to put in place a regulatory process," said EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Critics of the Bush plan are not convinced. They say it does not do enough to counter the environmental threat emissions pose.

"We've found that these voluntary programs just don't work," Lieberman said.

Critic: Plan 'less than a fraud'

Also on Wednesday, some of the nation's largest labor unions and environmental groups panned the administration's plan as inadequate.

"The president's new climate plan announced last week is nothing less than a fraud -- a mirage of action to reduce heat-trapping gases that will actually allow a 14 percent increase in climate change gases over the next ten years," said Kevin Knobloch, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

President Bush announced two environmental proposals last week. One, called the "Clear Skies Initiative", promises to cut 70 percent of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and mercury emissions from power plants by 2018.

The other calls for cutting greenhouse gas "intensity" by 18 percent over the next 10 years. But that is a financial term, designed to measure the level of emissions per dollar of economic output, and has little to do with actually cutting pollution.

Emissions rising, dropping?

One of the firms honored Wednesday by the EPA was General Motors, which promised to reduce emissions at its automaking plants.

"You heard General Motors say today... by 2005, they're going to reduce their 2000 numbers by 10 percent," Whitman said. "That's significant. That's a real cut in growth."

And that's the catch, environmentalists say: The cut is in growth of greenhouse gas emissions, not an overall cut in emissions.

"Under the administration's plan, greenhouse gas pollution goes up, not down," said Joe Goffman, senior attorney for Environmental Defense, a New York-based nonprofit agency.

Though a variety of companies have committed to make voluntary reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions, overall emissions have not declined, Goffman said. "Despite their success ,U.S. greenhouse emissions are still climbing," he said.

Goffman said greenhouse gas pollution is projected to increase by at least 12 percent over the next ten years.

--CNN's Cleve Mesidor contributed to this report




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