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Climate Change at the Stack: Posturing Toward Kyoto
U.S., rest of the world ponder CO2 emissions, with utilities caught in the middle.
Four months from now, in Kyoto, Japan, international policy negotiators will decide how quickly to curtail carbon dioxide emissions and allay the world's fears of melting ice caps and rising temperatures.
The amendments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or FCCC, are likely to be founded more on world and domestic politics than on science. Industry climatologists, after all, insist the atmosphere is not warming as fast as others predict, and could be, in fact, cooling. Economics may be a spoiler in the debate (em can business bear the brunt of regulation? (em and the role of developing nations is a question mark.
For utilities, Kyoto's a toss-up. The U.S. can expect considerable opposition on four provisions critical to the power industry, including the banking and borrowing of emissions credits, emissions trading between countries, commitments from developing nations and credit for actions utilities have taken to reduce greenhouse gases.
The amendments will address issues important to the industry's future, but equally pressing topics could arise on the way to Kyoto. Several subsidiary body meetings were scheduled, including those in Denver and New York.
At the United Nations in late June, President Clinton went head to head with European leaders. They were calling for specific targets for reduction of greenhouse gases. Clinton wanted to be certain the goals were attainable. He could have been waiting for results from an economic analysis that his administration had long promised. However, Clinton did pledge to win public opinion for legally binding global goals by December, when world leaders were to meet in Kyoto.
How much longer will industry have to wait to know what negotiators' targets (em which could reduce emissions by as much as 20 percent by 2020 (em will mean to their pocketbooks? And what effect will all of this have on federal electric restructuring legislation?
A Climate Timeline
The Clinton administration's global warming economic report was promised in May, then again in June. At press time, it still had not issued a report and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was taking the administration to task, saying that if it now came as promised by late July, only six months would remain before Kyoto.
Two federal officials, from the Department of Energy and EPA, predict delays in restructuring legislation from the outcome of Kyoto. Adding to the legislative slowdown could be the EPA's proposals to "package" pollutants, including greenhouse gases, for easier, more economic control.
Congressional resolutions and industry moves calling for targets or alternative studies also could influence U.S. negotiators prior to their jaunt to Japan:
• Binding Targets. Clinton's statement aside, a U.S. State Department official who asked not to be named says it's hard to ignore Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). Byrd, with 60 other legislators, has called for developing countries to agree to quantified, binding emissions targets. If those countries can't agree, Byrd maintains, the U.S. shouldn't sign the protocol.
• State Department Input. A proposed authorization bill would require the State Department to perform