INSIGHT: US emissions law will flow from Bali deal

20 December 2007 14:59  [Source: ICIS news]

Connaughton and Undersecretary of State Dobriansky at BaliBy Joe Kamalick


WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Bush administration’s signature on this week’s UN climate change agreement at Bali, Indonesia, virtually guarantees that US chemical producers will see an industrial emissions control law come out of Congress to be signed by the president next year.


Indeed, chemical producers and other manufacturers may be eager to see an emissions control law engineered by Bush and the Democrat-majority Congress in 2008 - rather than face what most assuredly would be a more draconian climate control bill in 2009 if both the White House and Congress are then in Democrat hands.


Some US chemicals majors are already pressing for an emissions bill as part of the US Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP).


Bush’s top environmental policy adviser, James Connaughton, as much as predicted a US federal climate control statute for next year, telling reporters this week that in the wake of the Bali agreement and the new US energy law enacted on Wednesday, “our focus now will be on emissions reductions among utilities and industry”.


Connaughton said that Bush will work with Congress next year to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by industry but will emphasise incentives and technology rather than mandates.


Connaughton even went so far as to decline to say that Bush would veto a climate control bill from Congress next year that might include emissions limits on industry and electric utilities.


Earlier this month, a US Senate panel approved a bill sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) and John Warner (Republican-Virginia) that would impose mandatory limits or caps on US industrial emissions of six GHGs and auction emissions permits to companies in major industrial sectors, including chemicals.


That measure was widely opposed by chemicals firms and a broad alliance of other manufacturers and utilities which fear that emissions caps would trigger massive fuel-switching from coal to natural gas, sending gas prices ever higher.


The US chemicals industry is heavily dependent on natgas as a feedstock as well as an energy source.


Asked whether Bush would veto a cap and trade bill similar to the Warner-Lieberman measure if passed by Congress next year, Connaughton said: 


“Congress has been debating climate control since the mid-1990s, and now with the energy bill done and with new automobile mileage standards and a much higher alternative fuels mandate taken care of, our focus now will be on emissions reductions among utilities and industry.”


“In light of the energy bill that the president signed today, Congress will have to regroup, and I’m sure there will be a lot of work next year on power generation,” he said.


“President Bush will be an active participant with Congress in those discussions, but there is nothing specific I can say now beyond that point,” Connaughton said.


Connaughton said the so-called “Bali roadmap” that the US agreed with other UN member nations in Bali last Sunday is significant in that for the first time major developing nations such as India, Brazil and China have agreed to participate in national emissions control programmes that are “measurable, reportable and verifiable”.


“The failure of the Kyoto agreement was that it did not have participation by developing countries,” Connaughton said.


The Bali roadmap sets a broad agenda for UN members to work out details of an international emissions reduction plan to succeed the Kyoto climate treaty when it expires in 2012.


Connaughton said the Bush administration supports “a very aggressive schedule” in the Bali agreement toward international cooperation on emissions reductions targets to take up where the US-shunned Kyoto treaty ends in 2012.


The Bali agreement, he noted, calls for those targets to be set by the end of 2009 so that each participating nation can get well along in implementation by the time the Bali consensus is to take effect in 2012.


Connaughton said the energy bill signed by Bush this week already positions the US to make significant cuts in GHG emissions. 


He said the energy bill’s new automobile fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020 and a massive boost in the US biofuels mandate to 36bn gal/year by 2022 “will combine to reduce US GHG emissions by 6bn tonnes by 2030 and by as much as 600m tonnes/year each year after 2030”.


Asked how the Bush administration would craft emissions policy and legislation with Congress to meet the Bali agreement’s requirement for “measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives,” Connaughton cited the just signed energy bill and its established, enforceable targets of 35 mpg for auto engines and 36bn gal/year of biofuels production and consumption.


But how will the Bali requirement for “quantified emission limitation” translate into US policy toward industrial and power sector emissions?


“We are open for discussion on that next year,” Connaughton said. 


“There is going to be a lot of debate in Congress on this, and we’ll be looking at low-carbon coal and nuclear power and state initiatives with market-based and technology approaches,” he said.


However, he added, the Bush administration’s policy in discussing mid-term emissions goals in the context of the Bali roadmap will focus on “national goals that will include incentives and technology development and measures that will be effective and economically sound”.

By: Joe Kamalick
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