Gas Relief


The Clinton administration proved in Yugoslavia that it's not going to sit around and wait for congressional approval before waging an actual war. It's showing the same attitude in its war on greenhouse gases.

Despite the Senate's 95-0 signal that it is not prepared to ratify the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reductions–and plenty of scientific questions about the relation between those gases and global temperatures, the likely effects of any predicted increase in temperature, and the costs of mitigating that increase–the Clinton administration is rushing ahead to implement the U.N. demands.

The Department of Energy estimates that if Kyoto's requirements become law, gasoline prices would average $1.91 a gallon in the United States and total electricity prices could increase as much 86 percent. The protocol, still being hotly debated in various international meetings, applies only to a list of rich, industrialized countries that will be required to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The Clinton administration hopes an emissions trading system, the details of which are still undecided, would help reduce implementation costs to an average increase in American utility bills of $70 to $100 a year.

In early June, the administration issued an executive order requiring all federal agencies to reduce total energy use to 30 percent below 1985 levels by 2010 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by the same date. The order gives an out that private business won't have under Kyoto's guidelines: Government agencies can get exemptions if the reductions prove "not practical."

Last year's appropriations bills for the Environmental Protection Agency supposedly prevent that agency from doing anything to implement Kyoto before Senate ratification. Still, the EPA has gone ahead with a project to test international greenhouse gas emissions trading with Russia. The House Science Committee is now investigating this proposal to see if it violates the nonimplementation clause.

Then again, the Senate may be moving closer to embracing Kyoto. Sens. John Chafee (R-R.I.), Joseph Leiberman (D-Conn.), and Connie Mack (R-Fla.) have introduced an administration-supported bill that would give tradable credits for gas emission reductions to companies even before Kyoto goes into effect. Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) has introduced a similar bill in the House. Though neither bill is likely to pass this year, they would create a new political constituency for ratification of the protocol, since the credits would be worthless unless Kyoto's demands become law.