Alternative visions for a US climate policy

Publish date: February 14, 2006

Written by: Svend Søyland

WASHINGTON, D.C.—There are several voices in the United States calling for action on climate policies. In the span of one week, the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change presented its agenda for Climate Action, the Evangelical Climate Initiative aired their first television spots, 202 Mayors signed a climate protection agreement and President George Bush even learned something new about corporate America.

Pew’s Agenda for Climate Action (ACA) is the result of a two-year effort that sets a pragmatic course of climate action across all areas of the economy that can be implemented today. The ACA identifies both broad and specific policies, combining recommendations on economy-wide mandatory emissions cuts, technology development, scientific research, energy supply, and adaptation. It also outlines critical steps that can be taken in key sectors.

Both sticks and carrots needed
In contrast to The Renewable Energy Initiative recently launched by President Bush, the ACA proposes sticks as well as carrots—rather than just carrots. Many ACA recommendations on science and technology seem to be addressed in the 2007 budget. But the Pew Centre argues that the United States needs both innovations and initiatives that will reduce emissions now. A tighter and more coherent energy efficiency regime for all vehicles, both trucks and cars is one of the more specific recommendations. The existing Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standard, Pew argued, is full of loopholes and lax goals.

The ACA also calls for a modest and reasonable cap and trade system for emissions without a “safety valve.” A safety valve would in effect lift greenhouse gas emission limits if the cost were above a set ceiling. The document also reiterates the call for the United States to become an active player in global climate change negotiations, rather than relying solely on a partnership with nations that are outside the Kyoto Agreement.

Vicki Arroyo, Director of Policy and Analysis at the Pew Centre, stressed the need for establishing a credible mandatory greenhouse gas reporting programme. She criticised the proposed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for not taking into account reductions achieved prior to 2002.

“Pew proposes a system that gives some acknowledgement for past reductions, and at the same time does not punish late starters,” she said. “We would like to explore a cap and trade system that could be compatible with existing systems, such as the European Carbon Trading System. After all, a global trading regime would be the most efficient.”

The path chosen for this approach is based on absolute reductions rather than the emission intensity reductions favoured by the Bush Administration. When pressed, Arroyo suggested that stabilisation at a 550 part per million CO2 atmospheric concentration could be a reasonable goal.

A nuclear renaissance?
The Pew Centre also argues that “nuclear power provides a substantial amount of non-emitting electricity and is therefore important to keep in the energy mix." The report recommends support for an advanced generation of nuclear power, while noting that issues such as safety and waste disposal must also be addressed.

Bellona believes that a renaissance of nuclear power in the United States is imminent, and also opposes it. During a hearing on the 2007 Budget in the Senate Energy Committee last week, nuclear energy shone as a holy grail for solving both oil dependency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions even though Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman had to stress that new reactors were costly and decades down the road.

Some 19 applications for building new reactors are in the pipeline. Loan guarantees, a back-up insurance plan provided by the US Government called the Price-Andersen Act, and sponsored application procedures have stimulated the nuclear utilities. But if and when reactors will actually be built remains to be seen.

Several big companies are committed
Representatives from the power utilities, the oil and gas industry, the nuclear fuel processing industry and a home appliance company that had taken part in the development of the ACA explained its recommendation. Shell, BP, Cinergy, PG&E, Holcim and Whirlpool, said that they had made emission reduction goals on a voluntary basis through the EPA Climate Leader programme, but they all agreed that federal mandatory programmes would be beneficial.

John Homiest, President and US board chairman of Shell Oil Company was quoted as saying: “The changes needed in our energy infrastructure to meet future demand and respond to climate change will not happen by chance—a clear, long term framework will give business the necessary incentive and confidence to invest further.”

During the question and answer session, companies were asked whether their views on mandatory regulations were held by most of their competitors. Leaders from energy and utility companies explained with some chagrin that not everyone shared their dedication, but claimed that companies supporting tighter regulations now represent the mainstream rather than the margins.

John Stowell, Vice President for Environmental Strategy, Federal Affairs and Sustainability at Cinergy, told Bellona Web that “not all power utilities share our call for carbon pricing or a mandatory cap and trade regime, but even those that strongly oppose this are making discreet adjustments to a future with these mechanisms.”

Evangelical pastors take a stand on global warming
The goal of controlling emissions has found some strange bedfellows—86 American evangelical pastors are launching a radio and television campaign to address global warming this week. Among them are several pastors who, on many other issues, are staunch supporters of the President.

A counter-campaign has been mounted by some 20 pastors who argue that the science on global warming is far from clear, both regarding actual climate change and to what extent man-made emissions are to blame for it.

200 mayors sign Climate Protection Agreement
One year ago, the Mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, presented the “Kyoto Challenge” to fellow US Mayors: On February 16th 2005 when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 141 countries, Nickels announced that Seattle would commit to the goals of the agreement. He asked other mayors to follow his example. As of this week, 202 cities representing some 40 million inhabitants, have signed on to the Climate Protection Agreement.

Smalltalk at the White House
Tom Carper, Delaware’s Democratic senator, shared a chat with Mr. Bush during a White House Dinner on Tuesday. Carper told Bellona Web that he had explained to Mr. Bush that several of the big emitters and fortune 500 companies in the United States were now calling for mandatory systems to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in order to gain predictability for their long-term investments. According to Carper, Bush seemed genuinely surprised by this piece of information.