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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

On My Honor

Air Date: Week of January 24, 2003

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Instead of signing on to the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush Administration has chosen to draft its own climate strategy. It’s a voluntary effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, and senior administration officials have been asking major businesses to pledge allegiance to the plan. Host Steve Curwood talks with New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin about the scheme which is to be unveiled on February 6th.

Transcript

[MUSIC]
CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I‘m Steve Curwood. Some of the biggest corporations in America are about to step forward and pledge allegiance to an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol that’s being promoted by the Bush administration.
On February 6th, major industry leaders will roll out their blueprint to comply with the president’s game plan to curb emissions linked to climate change. Meanwhile, senior administration officials have been traveling the country asking CEOs to promise in writing that their firms will meet the program’s goals.
The White House isn’t calling for a reduction of total greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, the plan calls for a voluntary 18 percent slowing of emission growth when compared to economic growth.
And joining me now to talk about this development is Andrew Revkin, who covers the environment for The New York Times. Welcome Andy.
REVKIN: It’s good to be here.
CURWOOD: Andy, let’s talk about exactly what the administration is asking these companies to do. What are they expecting in terms of written promises and what promises have they extracted so far?
REVKIN: The administration is looking for something it can show the country that says that the country is on this trajectory that the president spoke about a year ago. He said the nation should, in a voluntary way, act to curtail emissions so that ten years from last year, 2012, the rate of growth will be 18 percent lower than it was last year.
So then, what they did was they parsed out industry. They said, okay, we’ve got autos here, we’ve got oil here, we’ve got electric generation here. And they started going around to these sectors and saying, look, what can you do to help us prove that the administration’s goal was achievable?
And there was a back and forth thing on this. For example, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents all the big oil producers-- Exxon and Shell, BP-- at first, wrote a letter to the White House saying we would like to commit to this general goal of heading in the right direction. That kind of thing, sort of nonspecific. And the administration said, that ain’t going to cut it. They literally said, nah, try again. If you want to stand with us on the podium next month and talk about goals, they have to be real goals: concrete, measurable, tonnage of gases. Not some vague commitment to “I pledge allegiance to the atmosphere,” that kind of thing.
And that’s basically been the same with each of the sectors. The American Chemistry Council, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, they’ve all had to kind of come up with a number which is realistic, which they feel they can actually do and that the White House sees as sufficient to make its case.
CURWOOD: Andy, tell me, what’s the incentive for business to sign on to this? And they can’t participate in international carbon trading because the United States isn’t part of the Kyoto Accord. What’s in it for business to agree to making written promises to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
REVKIN: Well, there’s a couple of benefits to signing in for your industry. One is they’re hoping to ward off or fend off the possibility of actual legislation or other changes in regulations that would require cuts. And so many people in industry have decided that the best way to do that is to at least try to prove that volunteerism can work.
And that’s been the administration’s approach, too. Right now if they can’t show that industry is willing to sort of get on board for these kinds of efforts voluntarily, then that would add ammunition to folks who are trying to pass laws that would restrict them. John McCain and Lieberman from Connecticut just two weeks ago rolled out a proposed bill from both sides, Republican and Democrat, saying it’s time for a countrywide approach to slowing, to actually reducing, gas emissions. And that’s the kind of thing the industrial sector really doesn’t want to see yet.
CURWOOD: How much is this going to help the White House politically, at home and abroad, do you think?
REVKIN: They have a conservative base that they need to satisfy to win states like West Virginia, which sits on a heap of coal, and Ohio. At the same time, though, their polling has shown suburban educated middle-class women, sort of the classic soccer mom, for that person climate change has become a dominant environmental issue. It’s no longer the local toxic waste dump or sprawl, it’s climate change. And the Bush administration seems to feel it needs to do something to keep those voters in the tent, along with their base, which is, you know, in states like West Virginia.
CURWOOD: If this is a voluntary program, how would the administration follow up on these promises that they’re getting from industry?
REVKIN: That’s still very fuzzy at this point. It’s not contractual volunteerism. People can opt out. And from what I understand, the main sort of hazard in opting out is just adverse public publicity. So, that’s about it as far as the end game. And of course, one of the paradoxes that some people have pointed out in the president’s overall approach is that he’s talking about a timeline that ends in 2012. And that’s significantly beyond his term in office, even should he be re-elected. So, it would be up to someone else to determine whether this worked or not, long after George Bush is back on the ranch or somewhere else.
CURWOOD: Andrew Revkin covers the environment for The New York Times. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
REVKIN: It’s great to be here.

 

 

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