WASHINGTON – In an alternative environmental plan to rival the rejected Kyoto Protocol, President Bush is proposing what the White House calls the most aggressive cuts in power plant emissions in American history.
The plan starts with a series of tax incentives to encourage businesses, farmers and individuals to reduce pollution.
Presenting the proposal Thursday at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bush announced a "registry" for companies that report their greenhouse gas output to the government. The registry would create a credit system allowing companies to trade tax credits with each other, much as they can under Clean Air Act provisions aimed at curbing acid rain, permitting them to maintain those credits in other programs as well.
"This system has cut more pollution in the last decade than all the other programs under the Clean Air Act combined, and more than the law required," Bush said.
In the plan, Bush will tie the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions to gross domestic product and reduce those emissions by 18 percent as the GDP grows.
"What it's going to do is set a target of reducing greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years. It's a voluntary program that is one that includes incentives to have businesses come in and protections for those who come in early, so that they won't — if there's a change at some future point when some regulations come into place — they won't lose the advantage of having acted early," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.
Environmental groups opposing the plan criticized the linkage, arguing that emissions will grow as long as the economy does.
Dan Becker, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said linking greenhouse gas output with economic activity would be "nibbling around the edges" of the issue.
"This is a series of voluntary steps that are linked to the health of the economy in a way that makes America a fair-weather friend of the global climate," Becker said. "When the economy is booming, we'll do something modest; when it isn't, we'll dump global warming over the side."
But Bush said, "Economic growth is the solution not the problem" to developing new technologies to improving the environment.
The plan, which has no set goal for the number of businesses that would register, would expand on the 222 electric utilities that currently report their output.
The system is an alternative to the international Kyoto treaty that requires 40 industrialized nations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, believed to cause global warming, to 1990 levels.
The Senate rejected the treaty in 2000, arguing that it would cost millions of American jobs and doesn't take into account the relative productivity of nations compared to one another.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was disappointed that the president's suggestions didn't go as far as Kyoto. "The key point is to do something meaningful. The great disappoint is it offers no real hope or progress. It's not meaningful," he said in a Thursday press conference.
But as Bush promises the equivalent of removing 70 million cars from the road, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the complaints are symptomatic that Bush's proposal is on track.
"It's a classic case of where some in the environmental community say the president doesn't go far enough and many in the business community say the president is going too far. I think that's probably an indication that the president has gotten it just right," Fleischer said.
The measures are included in the president's proposed budget, which raises the funds devoted to global climate change-related activities by $700 million to $4.5 billion.
Bush is directing his Cabinet secretaries to lean on those they deal with to make "real commitments" to cut greenhouse gases. Part of that pressure will come from within 80 other programs already in operation aimed at slowing emissions levels.
In a separate effort, Bush said his comprehensive energy plan, which includes the provisions, includes $4.6 billion in tax credits for promoting residential solar, energy, wind, and "biomass" energy production, which uses grass, trees and waste to produce electricity, and greater fuel efficiency.
Through tax incentives, he also would urge farmers to plant carbon dioxide-absorbing trees, consumers to buy hybrid and fuel-cell cars and solar hot water heaters, and industry to capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from landfills.
Bush also seeks to reduce the worst power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by 70 percent. Most of the cuts would come by 2008-2010, the rest by 2018.
"By doing all these things... I am absolutely confident that America will reach the goal that I have set," he said, adding that if by 2012, goals are not reached and sound science requires further actions, he will promote further incentives for technology development and could move to other market-based solutions.
He steered clear of regulating power plants' output of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases. Bush had promised during his presidential campaign to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants, but reversed himself last year.
"By significantly slowing the growth of greenhouse gases, this policy will put America on a path toward stabilizing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere in the long run, while sustaining the economic growth needed to finance our investments in a new, cleaner energy structure," the administration said in a statement.
An economic report to Bush last week warned that the Kyoto requirements could erode the nation's gross domestic product by up to 4 percent in 2010. The report by the Council of Economic Advisers said this is "a staggering sum when there is no scientific basis for believing this target is preferable to one less costly."
Fox News' Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.