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Capitol Comment

    Capitol Comment 189 - Implementing Kyoto without Senate Ratification: Clinton-Gore’s ‘Think Globally, Regulate Locally’ Campaign

    05/18/1998

    Every high school civics student knows that two-thirds of the U.S. Senate must ratify any treaty before it becomes law. However, the Clinton administration is attempting to bypass the Constitution, encouraging state and local governments to implement the Kyoto Protocol, the recently-negotiated global warming treaty, before submitting it to the Senate.

    For example, the administration has held town meetings around the country to build support for Kyoto-style policies. At these events, speakers from federal agencies (Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, FEMA, EPA) typically warn that unless the United States and other nations reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases," the local community or economy may be afflicted by outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever, floods, droughts, hurricanes, or other natural disasters. Such scare tactics are used repeatedly, even though the computer models on which global-warming scenarios are based are far too crude to predict regional, let alone local, weather impacts.

    No Pretense of Balance. Especially noteworthy are two conferences the EPA bankrolled and co-sponsored with its state and local counterparts — ECOS (the association of state environmental agency heads), STAPPA/ALAPCO (the association of state and local air quality regulators), and the Center for Clean Air Policy (a think tank supported by the National Governors Association). On January 21-22, 1998, these organizations held an Eastern States "Post Kyoto and Beyond" conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Revealingly, the conference brochure declares that the United States "must now begin designing policies and programs" to reduce carbon emissions 7% below 1990 levels — as if the Kyoto Protocol already had the authority of law. Similarly, the EPA’s Web site says that states should get involved now because, among other things, they can, " ... encourage and support the federal government to take action at the national level."1

    Not surprisingly, the two-day program exhibited not even a pretense of balance or objectivity. With the exception of one corporate lobbyist seeking a tax break for early action to reduce emissions, all the speakers were either environmental bureaucrats or green activists. All toed the EPA company-line that global warming is a huge problem for which increased regulation is the only solution.

    Early Implementation. At both the Baltimore and the San Francisco conferences, administration officials stressed the importance of giving "appropriate credit" for "early action" to reduce emissions. However, the officials offered no specific definition of "early" or "appropriate." Since there is no legal mechanism to give any type of credit for emissions reduction efforts now, it will be difficult to get states and industries to act prior to Senate ratification of the Protocol. In addition, the treaty itself does not allow governments to accrue credit for early emission reductions before ratification by a majority of Protocol signatories.

    Instead of formal credit, President Clinton may intend to use greenhouse pork to persuade states and industry to make reductions now. His Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) calls for $6.3 billion in tax breaks and R&D for low-carbon technologies. Utilities will receive a 10% tax break for emission reductions, while various national labs and industries will receive $2.7 billion to develop technologies deemed to be climate-friendly.

    State Action Plans. Through such local meetings and regional conferences, the administration is apparently attempting to recruit pro-Kyoto lobbyists in bureaucratic power centers outside the U.S. Senate’s authority. What’s more, the EPA is providing its state and local counterparts both technical and financial assistance to develop "climate change action plans." At the Baltimore conference, one Vermont environmental official presented an elaborate plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Another top New Jersey environmental official blamed urban sprawl for excessive greenhouse gas emissions, wondering aloud whether his state should consider land-use limitations as an abatement strategy. If enough states choose to implement such schemes, Kyoto will become the de facto law of the land, regardless of how (or whether) the Senate votes on ratification.

    Fortunately, many states remain skeptical of the prudence of early action, with Alabama, New Mexico, Ohio, Delaware, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia taking official stances against the treaty. Some states have also passed resolutions specifically to block early implementation of the Protocol.

    New Propaganda Campaign. Without evidence that the impacts of global warming will be felt locally, states have little incentive to implement Kyoto-style policies or to support ratification. Accordingly, at the Baltimore conference, the administration asked states to step up their local education efforts across the country. To this end, state officials wondered aloud about which potential environmental catastrophes would be most effective in gaining public notice. One official from New Jersey pointed directly to sea level rise as the issue most capable of arousing public fear.

    At both conferences, administration and other pro-Kyoto speakers emphasized the alleged "co-benefits" of greenhouse gas reductions, asserting that decreased carbon dioxide emissions would dramatically improve public health by simultaneously reducing other "pollutants," such as fine particulate matter. The source of this line of argument is a controversial study, published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, which claims the Protocol would save eight million lives by 2020. The Lancet article, however, is based largely on the same controversial particulate matter study the EPA relied upon in the recent battle over new air quality standards. The study’s lead author, C. Arden Pope, has questioned the article’s conclusions, stating in Science News that he "hopes that people will not place too much weight on its estimates of lives that can be saved by climate policies. Those numbers are still preliminary and rest on substantial uncertainties."2

    Conclusion. The Constitution demands that states should not take steps to implement the Kyoto Protocol prior to ratification by the U.S. Senate. In past regulatory decisions, however, such as the recent proposed rule to reduce ozone transport, the perception of state support has been key to the administration’s justification for controversial regulations. Without the support of state governments, the Kyoto Protocol has little chance of ratification. However, if the administration persuades states that immediate carbon emission reductions are economically and environmentally beneficial, Protocol ratification may be right around the corner.

    1http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/actions/state/state/ websumm.html

    2Science News Online, http://www.sciencenews.org/Sn_arc97/11_8_97/Fob1.htm, November 8, 1998.