Published on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 by the Inter Press Service
Presidential Hopefuls Push Energy Alternatives, Pan Kyoto
by Katherine Stapp
NEW YORK - As the U.S. Congress debates an energy bill roundly rejected by environmentalists and public health advocates, the Democratic hopefuls for the presidency in 2004 are seeking to distinguish themselves with energy plans that would wean the country from its addiction to fossil fuels.
"All of the Democratic proposals are head and shoulders above what the Bush administration has put forth," said Debbie Boger, the Washington representative for global warming and energy of the Sierra Club.
Most of the Democrats have repeatedly attacked Bush for pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that calls for nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions--a major cause of global warming, scientists say--by six percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Former President Bill Clinton signed Kyoto, but Bush refuses to submit the treaty to Congress for ratification because he says industrialized nations like the United States are unfairly singled out.
Few of the Democratic contenders themselves unconditionally support Kyoto as written.
Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a member of the official Senate observation group to the Kyoto conference on global warming. He supported the Clinton position at the conference, but voted in 1997 to require all nations in the developing world, including giants China and India, to be included in Kyoto, in effect killing the treaty. Lieberman also voted in 2000 to block funding to implement Kyoto, again blocking the deal.
The senator, who leads among contenders, has since vowed to "move America back into the Kyoto process." In January, he unveiled a bill that would require U.S. industry to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 2000 levels by the year 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2016.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a delegate to the Earth Summit in 1992 and the Kyoto climate talks in 1997, has also argued that developing countries be held to Kyoto.
He co-sponsored a State Department bill amendment that directed the Bush administration to work toward revising the treaty by promoting shared international responsibility of all major world powers to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean has sided most closely with the Bush administration, endorsing the National Governors Association policy, which opposed the Kyoto Protocol unless it included mandatory emissions cuts for developing countries. The policy recommended that the United States "not sign or ratify any agreement that would result in serious harm to the U.S. economy."
Of the Democrats now running, only Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has stated, "the U.S. must ratify the Kyoto Protocol."
While Kyoto remains a political hot potato, most Democrats are firmly opposed to the Bush energy plan now before the Senate. The bill, which some analysts give a less than 50 percent chance of passing, increases subsidies to the oil, coal and nuclear industries, and provides for only modest increases in the fuel economy of cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other light trucks.
The issue is important because the Department of Energy warns that U.S. dependence on oil imports is growing. Imports now meet 55 percent of U.S. petroleum demand and are expected to account for 68 percent by 2025.
Many observers believe that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was motivated primarily by the need to secure oil reserves to meet that rising demand.
"In this energy fight, the real test of leadership may come if most of the pro-environment amendments are rejects," said Adam Kolton, legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation. "If that happens, we'll need champions who go to the floor and do all they can to block the bill," he added in an interview.
Amendments include one by Lieberman to set concrete timetables to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and others to increase fuel economy for cars and SUVs and to require that utilities produce an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.
"Big spending on wasteful and unnecessary energy subsidies could not come at a worse time," Aileen Roder, program director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told IPS. "The United States is facing its largest budget deficit in history. At a time of fiscal belt-tightening, this $58 billion legislation is irresponsible and bad policy."
Kerry has endorsed a Strategic Energy Initiative that would give the private sector incentives to explore domestic and alternative energy sources. Some $16 billion in tax credits would be spent on domestic oil production and development of alternative fuels, which could reduce foreign oil imports by as much as three million barrels per day.
Dean promised to set a standard of 15 percent renewables by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020, partly by investing heavily in wind and solar technology.
Senator John Edwards of North Carolina has proposed creating bio-refineries in rural communities to transform farm wastes like cornhusks and crops like switch-grass into energy that can be sold for profit. He would also require increased use of renewable fuels for electricity.
Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri has taken the most drastic position, pushing for "energy independence" in 10 years, a goal that even the most fervent environmentalists view as unrealistic.
Gephardt backs the 'Apollo Project,' a long-term plan that would slash demand for oil by at least 2.4 million barrels per day by 2020 and boost renewable resources to meet 12 percent of the country's electricity needs by 2015. The ambitious plan, drafted by Representative Jay Inslee and signed by 39 members of the House, would also create one million highly skilled clean energy-related jobs by 2015.
The Republicans blocked a vote on the Apollo Project, and Inslee says he will now introduce the plan as stand-alone legislation in the coming weeks.
According to the latest CNN-Gallop poll, Lieberman is leading the pack of Democratic hopefuls with 20 percent public support, followed closely by Kerry (17 percent). Kucinich came in last, with two percent.
Copyright 2003 IPS