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U.S. Signing of Kyoto Accord Brings Jeers

U.S. Signing of Kyoto Accord Brings Jeers

The signing by the United States last week of the Kyoto agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions elicited jeers on Capitol Hill and in some energy circles. The move was seen as "more of a gesture of goodwill" to encourage commitments from developing countries that are attending the conference now underway in Argentina, according to Capitol Hill and gas industry sources. They seriously doubt President Clinton will submit the controversial accord to the Senate, which is sharply opposed to it.

The global climate accord, which is the target of ongoing negotiations at the Fourth Conference of Parties underway in Buenos Aires, Argentina, commits the United States to reduce overall greenhouse emissions by 7% below 1990 levels within the 2008-2012 range. This would require the United States to reduce its energy consumption by 30% by that time.

The U.S. signed the agreement over the strong warnings of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WVA) and other Capitol Hill lawmakers. In a letter last Monday, Byrd urged President Clinton not to sign the agreement, saying that it would be "contrary to the plain language" of a resolution unanimously passed by the Senate in July 1997 vowing not to approve the accord unless there were meaningful commitments from developing countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Signing the agreement, which requires two-thirds ratification by the Senate to become law, now is nothing more than an "empty gesture."

Senate Energy Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said the Clinton administration's decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol doomed the treaty. "I really believe that the treaty is dead - it just hasn't been buried yet." He believes the solutions for limiting greenhouse gas emissions will be found in technology and market-oriented approaches rather than with diplomats and negotiators.

The Senate views the Kyoto accord as a "fundamentally flawed document" that will never be ratified into law until the developing countries agree to limit their greenhouse gas emissions in the same fashion as the larger industrialized countries. But that's not likely to happen - at least not anytime soon, said Derek Jumper, press aide to the Senate Energy Committee.

"China's already told us for lack of a better word to stick it in our ear," he noted. "And without the support of China and other developing countries, such as India, Mexico and Indonesia, there's no way the Senate would ratify" the agreement. The reason: total carbon emissions from China and India combined are projected to exceed U.S. carbon emissions by the year 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration. Total carbon emissions from developing countries in 1995 were 2,153 metric tons per year, of which China accounted for about 37% and India 10%.

Although there's "no question" that a global warming accord would be good for natural gas, "there's still quite a few of our members [producers] that are uncertain as to the science behind global warming," said John Sharp, vice president of federal and state affairs and counsel for the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA). "We don't necessarily endorse all initiatives that would increase natural gas [usage] if they aren't cost effective and they aren't based on good science."

At the talks underway in Buenos Aires, where about 110-120 countries are participating, "the U.S. delegation is trying...right now to strengthen the agreement in those areas that are important to members of the Senate," said Martin Edwards, director of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). Discussions on this issue suffered a major setback earlier in the month when international negotiators soundly rejected a proposal to discuss voluntary commitments by developing countries.

The Buenos Aires conference is a "continuation" of the negotiations that were held in Kyoto, Japan, at the end of last year. "I think it's going to be an ongoing thing for the next few years. It's kind of an evolutionary thing," Edwards said. He noted that INGAA has an environmental representative at the talks, as do several individual oil and gas companies - Enron, BP, El Paso Energy and Shell.

This is a "huge issue" for natural gas, Edwards said. "I'm kind of amazed that [gas] people don't pay as much attention to it as they should..." In the United States alone, tougher emission standards could lead to a greater number of power utilities switching to gas-fired generation and backing away from coal as the fuel of choice, he believes.

Susan Parker

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