A Threat from Within: the Senate’s Four-Pollutant Bill

Hidden amongst the recent Senate wrangling over whether or not to include energy production in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) as part of a comprehensive national energy bill is a push by some leading Senate Democrats to make any new production of domestic energy a moot point.

Early in his administration, President George W. Bush pulled the plug on efforts in the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. The president also reaffirmed his campaign pledge to scrap the Kyoto Protocol — an international treaty designed to curb global emissions of CO2. The word “global” is misleading here, since the agreement really is not. As a U.N.-brokered treaty, it naturally forces the American people to bear the majority of the burden and cost while exempting most of the rest of the world.

Economic forecasters have estimated that Kyoto could cost the US economy nearly $400 billion per year (the Bush tax cut averages only $130 billion per year by comparison), export hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, destroy industries, and greatly increase the price of gasoline, electricity, housing, food — everything. In fact, implementing the so-called U.N. Global Warming Treaty would have such a destructive effect on the U.S. economy, and so little positive effect on the environment, the Senate went on record 95-0 in 1997 to oppose it. Then President Clinton and Vice President Gore knew that forcing Americans to cut their consumption of energy and fuel by 30 to 40 percent would probably be unpopular — which is why they never submitted to the Senate for ratification, and left the diplomatically explosive task of ash canning the treaty to President Bush.

Within the last several weeks a group of legislators led by Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT), has made plans to move what is called a “four-pollutant” bill to the floor by the end of the year. The four-pollutant approach refers to new regulations on electric utilities’ emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides — already regulated under the Clean Air Act — and one new substance, CO2. Jeffords, who became chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee after leaving the Republican Party in May, has been pursuing this legislation for some time. He cosponsored similar legislation in the 106th Congress, and spearheaded another abortive effort in the Senate last May.

His new bill, S. 556, the “Clean Smokestacks Act,” would cut CO2 emissions to 1990 levels. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the exact same formula as the Kyoto Protocol. The only difference is that we’d be going it alone. Sure, other industrial nations have promised to ratify the treaty in their own countries, but so far none have done so.

Why is that, if cutting CO2 emissions is so vital to staving off worldwide ecological catastrophe? The truth is that there is no concrete threat that can be proved by modern science or any empirical evidence that climate is changing unnaturally.

The main idea behind the concept of global warming is that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, principally CO2, are causing temperatures to rise unnaturally. To stop rising temperatures, the argument goes, you must stop people from producing CO2 from all sources: cars, trucks, power plants, and manufacturing — everything we depend on every day of our lives.

However, humans are responsible for only a miniscule amount of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year. In fact, of the roughly 160 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually, only 4.5 percent comes from human activity, with the United States accounting for just over 3 percent of the total. The other 95.5 percent of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere is created naturally, by things such as human, animal, and plant respiration, the ocean and other forces we have yet to understand.

Moreover, while atmospheric CO2 levels are rising, global temperatures are not. Since 1979 weather satellites from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — the most accurate measuring instruments we have today — have taken Earth’s global temperature. The verdict: Earth’s climate has not warmed. Period. Radiosondes on weather balloons launched twice daily throughout the world uphold this verdict.

Whether done unilaterally or multilaterally, the capping emissions of CO2 is not only scientifically indefensible, it is a threat to America’s economic and national security of considerable proportion. We are in the midst of an energy crisis. The price of gasoline, natural gas, and other fuels may have fallen now, but that is the result of the dramatic economic downturn caused by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington As the economy begins to recover, demand will rise again. So, too, will prices.

However, economic recovery will not happen ever if we pursue the course advocated by Sen. Jeffords. Cap emissions of CO2 and you cap the amount of energy that can be produced and the amount of fuel that can be used. Any effort along these lines would be virtually indistinguishable from a new direct tax on energy and the nationwide rationing of energy supplies. Today, with imports of foreign energy at a historic high and the future of new domestic sources highly uncertain, the last thing America needs is Congress making their gas and electricity more expensive and harder to get.

Economic strength and prosperity go hand in hand with reliable and affordable energy. The environmental threat cutting CO2 emissions seeks to alleviate is uncertain. The economic threat of doing so is decidedly real. The Bush administration and the House of Representatives believe it’s time to restore our energy security while we continue studying the problem. In a time of such grave economic uncertainty, this is the only prudent course.

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