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Recently, President George W. Bush rejected the idea of regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. In so doing, the president affirmed his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty calling for CO2 reductions that could cost Americans nearly $400 billion per year, give governments at home and abroad sweeping new regulatory authority, and export jobs and industries overseas - all without providing any environmental benefit.
The failings of Kyoto are so evident that even before the Clinton administration could sign it in 1997, the U.S. Senate went on record 95-0 opposing any treaty that would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy, or impose CO2 reductions on the United States without similar commitments from the developing world. The Senate pre-emptively killed the Kyoto Protocol, which has still never been submitted for ratification.
Now, however, a group of legislators led by Sen. James Jeffords , Vermont Republican, Sen. Joe Lieberman Connecticut Democrat, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican, and Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, have brought this disastrous and one-sided agreement back to life under the guise of the "four-pollutant" approach to reducing emissions.
The four-pollutant approach calls for new regulations on electric utilities' emissions of four substances. Three of these - mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides - are already covered under the Clean Air Act. It is the inclusion of the fourth substance, CO2, that makes the four-pollutant approach a vehicle for sabotaging economic growth and energy security for decades to come.
In the first place, CO2 is not a "pollutant" at all. It is, in fact, generated by a number of natural processes - including human respiration. Without it, life on planet Earth would come to a quick end. CO2 is only considered a pollutant by advocates of the human-induced global warming hypothesis, an idea unsupported by any genuine scientific evidence.
According to global warming alarmists, human activities - in particular, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas - are releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn is causing an unnatural warming trend. The only way to avert catastrophe, it is claimed, is by dramatically reducing CO2 emissions from all sources; cars, trucks, power plants, and manufacturing - essentially everything upon which modern life depends.
By including CO2 within their legislation, the sponsors of the four-pollutant approach are advocating de facto ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Even worse, they are doing so without commitments from any other country, not just those in the developing world.
The authors of the four-pollutant approach will, no doubt, deny any relation to Kyoto given the extreme political liabilities that support for the treaty entails. The legislation, they will point out, merely calls for regulating CO2 emissions from utilities. The reality is that subjecting CO2 to government oversight in any fashion, no matter how limited, will open a Pandora's Box of new regulation.
By ceding the central argument of extreme environmental groups - that CO2 poses a mortal threat to humankind - Congress will ultimately have no choice but to impose regulations on all sources of CO2 emissions. To do anything less will be characterized as immoral. Moreover, utilities facing regulations will lobby Congress to do precisely that - if only to avoid having to take on the brunt of reductions alone. Given these two forces, stopping short of economywide regulation of CO2 will become politically impossible.
Reducing CO2 carries a steep price tag, as much as $397 billion per year, according to the Energy Department. At a time when the economy is already sliding toward recession, such a policy will only hurl us into the abyss.
The cause of restoring America's energy security will also have to be thrown by the wayside. Current proposals for a new energy policy are necessarily reliant on the use of fossil fuels - the very type of energy that would be restricted under any CO2 reduction scheme. All that would be left are empty promises of so-called "renewable" energy sources currently incapable of meeting America's needs.
Put simply, the four-pollutant approach threatens to subvert the administration's entire agenda for economic growth and energy security. Since his decision to reject this course, the media have relentlessly accused President Bush of switching positions on CO2. The more significant flip-flop is really that of Sens. Jeffords and Lieberman, both of whom voted to pre-emptively kill the Kyoto agreement back in 1997.
Why anyone would sign onto a measure so politically lethal is something of a mystery. No new science has emerged to give any credence to claims of human-induced global warming. Even if such evidence did exist, no one can honestly claim unilaterally cutting CO2 emissions would make any difference.
If Congress is concerned about restoring economic growth and promoting a sound energy policy, it would be wise to follow the president's lead and leave carbon dioxide out of the regulatory arena.