Most Recent Action   Previous Action   Background   Hearings   Briefings   Reports and Articles 

Update on Climate Change Policy (1-7-03)

No environmental issue has garnered more attention on Capitol Hill than climate change and the associated debate over global warming.  This issue has been the topic of countless hearings over the past several years, most of which have been essentially economic in focus, although more recently they have dealt directly with climate change science.  This issue is of great interest to geoscientists, both those whose research is directed at improving our understanding of long-term climate change and those whose jobs in the petroleum and coal industries would be directly affected by restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. New interest spurred by the Third Assessment Report (TAR) released earlier this year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative promises to keep climate change an important political issue throughout the 107th Congress and the Bush Administration.  The National Council for Science and the Environment (formally the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment) has a comprehensive collection of Congressional Research Service Reports on all aspects of environmental policy.

Most Recent Action
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien ratified the Kyoto Protocol on December 16th in a signing ceremony in Ottawa. The previous week, the House of Commons voted to accept the treaty. According to the Canadian Press, agreeing to the protocol would require that the nation cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20-30 percent from current levels. In order for the international treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by 55 countries that make up 55% of global emissions. The rejection by the U.S. of the Kyoto Protocol means that Russia must ratify the treat for it to go into effect. If Russia rejects the treaty, then it will likely never meet the 55% of global emissions requirement for full ratification. (1/7/03)

Scientists, policymakers, and other interested individuals met in Washington at the beginning of December to discuss the strategic plan for the administration's Climate Change Science Program (CSSP). According to the press release for the meeting, CSSP is a multi-agency program charged with ". . . overseeing the science projects for the Congressionally mandated U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program and the White House-sponsored Climate Change Research Initiative . . . ". The strategic plan is available online and public comments on the activities outlined are being accepted until January 18, 2003. More information on the conference and submitting comments is available at (1/7/03)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released a report on August 7th urging the Bush administration to withdraw the 2002 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Climate Action Report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) record. Marlo Lewis, CEI senior fellow, warned that an attempt to substantially decrease US CO2 emissions would be disastrous for the economy, as CO2 is a byproduct of the vast majority of the US energy supply. The report criticized a letter sent by eleven attorneys general to the president on July 17th, warning him that their states would create their own CO2 regulations if he failed to act on the matter. Lewis asserted that such calls for increased regulation are based on "science fiction" and criticized the models used by the EPA to acquire their predictions of future climate change. Lewis suggested that adaptation to climate change was the best policy to support. (8/9/02)

On July 25th, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held an investigative hearing on the viability of climate models.  Six witnesses presented, under oath, before the two representatives, Jim Greenwood (R-PA) and Peter Deutsch (D-FL), present.  The witnesses explained the process of synthesizing the National Assessment, described the models used, results arrived at, and the assessment's reliabilitiy.  General consensus was that while the climate models can serve as a useful tool and are better than heading into the future without expectations, they cannot and should not be relied on too closely due to the scientific uncertainty associated with the models.  The issue of discussing climate change vulnerabilities as opposed to predictions was presented by Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., President-Elect of the American Association of State Climatologists and Climatologist and Professor at Colorado State University.  The concept was in favor with several of the witnesses.  The majority of witnesses stressed that while the models are uncertain, this uncertainty should not prevent sensible policy decisions from being made, as it is apparent that climate change is going to occur in the future.  All called for additional funding for climate modeling.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on climate change science and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) priorities on July 23rd.  All who spoke recognized the importance of climate change and seemed in agreement that climate change will be the "premiere issue of our millennium."  The co-chairs of the House Climate Change Caucus, Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and John Olver (D-MA), provided opening remarks and were present for the full length of the briefing. The briefing panel consisted of three speakers. Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the Administrator of NOAA, clarified government actions relevant to climate change issues. Daniel Albritton, Director of the NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, presented a clear, concise picture of what scientists do and do not know about climate change. James Mahoney, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Director of the US Climate Change Science Program Office, expressed the need for careful analysis of possible scenarios for the future.  He also offered more detailed information on the genesis of the Climate Change Science Program and laid out its three level strategy that includes: continued scientific inquiry, increased implementation of observation and monitoring systems to fill in the data gaps, particularly in the oceans, and focus on the development of decision support tools. (8/6/02)

The July 11th Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on the administration's climate change policies highlighted the vast differences of opinion that surround this issue. The four witnesses, all members of the Bush administration, were united in their vision for US climate change policy. They expressed the need for flexibility due to uncertainty of science, additional research, and global involvement in any emissions reduction plan. The need to act rationally in order to avoid economic hardship was also stressed. This concept, of needing to make a choice between the economy and protecting the environment, was one that came into question, as not all present agreed that this was the case. Acting Chair John Kerry (D-MA) was clear in his disapproval of current administration plans and spent a substantial amount of time questioning the witnesses about the wording, definitions, and concepts associated with the president's proposal. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) all expressed varied levels of concern with the administration's policies while Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and George Allen (R-VA) supported the policies.

On July 10th, the House Science Committee gathered for a hearing to discuss the president's proposed climate change initiative with Bush Administration representatives. Three issues were dominant throughout the testimony, including expressed concern over the potential for climate change, the globally unparalleled levels of money being spent on R&D, and the need to react to all new scientific information in a rational way. Robert Card, Undersecretary for Energy, Science, and Environment at the US Department of Energy, summed up the administration's plan as seeking a "gradual transition, motivated by prices and markets, guided and paced by science, facilitated by new technology, and underpinned by supporting and coordinated domestic and international policies." Representatives had many questions for the witnesses surrounding the topic of climate change. Reactions to the testimony and the administration's position on climate change were varied. (7/30/02)

On June 7th, Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) introduced the Weather Safety Act, H.R. 4900, "to help Americans better prepare for and respond to severe weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes and to lessen related damage such as flooding and droughts."  In a press release issued by his office, Watts is quoted as saying, "This legislation will help communities across the country assess their vulnerability to extreme weather and better prepare for it."  This act would support scientists in their efforts to better make medium-range climate forecasts, versus immediate or long-term predictions. Watts has described this initiative in articles in EOS and APS News.  In Watts' press release, AGU President-elect Robert Dickinson is quoted as saying, "We fully support his [Chairman Watts'] ideas for a 'no regrets' strategy to provide increased resilience to extreme climate variability through information transfer from scientists studying climate change to local citizens and leaders." The bill has been referred to the House Science Committee.  Additional information can be found at the AGU website. (6/13/02)

Japan and the EU have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.  They join 58 other nations in committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 8% below the 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.  In order for the treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by 55 countries that must make up 55% of global emissions.  If Russia and Poland ratify the treaty, countries representing 55.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions will be represented.  As a result, US participation is not a necessity for this treaty to go into effect, but the EU has called on the US to participate nonetheless.  The recent ratifications come at a key time, as the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa (known by some as "Rio plus 10" referring to the 1992 Rio de Janeiro climate summit) is right around the corner, starting on August 26th.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the US Climate Action Report 2002 on May 31st.  This document states climate changes "are most likely due to human activities," an assertion at odds with previous administration statements.  President Bush was briefed on the report.  He initially sought to distance himself from the it, telling reporters, "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy."  The Bush Administration has been criticized, both internationally and domestically, for its decision to withdraw the US from the Kyoto Protocol and for its continuation with a "do nothing" attitude on the matter.  That criticism appears likely to intensify now that the Climate Action Report has been released.  EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström commented on Bush's recently proposed Clear Skies Initiative: ''We have calculated that the Bush plan will even allow the US to increase its emissions by up to 33 percent.''  On May 10th, 13 senators sent a letter to President Bush calling on him to play a leadership role at the Johannesburg summit, working towards "effective and cooperative solutions."  Time will tell how Bush will respond to this request. (6/4/02)

An Economic Report of the President released on Tuesday, February 5, 2002 by the White House Council of Economic Advisers discusses the current administration's view on climate change policy.  The report language is vague and described by the administration as a "reasonable and gradual" approach to the climate change issue.   Details of the actual policy are still unknown.  This report has caused some to question the effectiveness of a "gradual" approach.  The current administration is proposing an increase of 3% at $1.7 billion to fund the US Global Change Research Program.  In addition, the FY 2003 budget requests $40 million to fund a Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) in addition to a National Climate Change Technology Initiative (NCCTI).  The CCRI would operate within several federal agencies: Department of Energy (DOE), National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), while the NCCTI would operate within the DOE. (2/07/02)

A press release issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced the findings of a new report by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC) entitled "Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions."  The report characterizes the global warming trend of the last century, examines what may be in store for the 21st century, and investigates the extent to which global warming may be attributable to human activity.  The Bush Administration requested this review of the state of climate science to prepare for upcoming international discussions on global warming.  Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor and professor at the University of California at Irvine, chaired the Committee on the Science of Climate Change, which consisted of 11 of the nation's top climate scientists.  The report notes that Earth surface temperatures rose by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (about .6 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century: a warming trend that intensified in the last 20 years.  Looking into the future, computer models predict a rise in average global surface temperatures of between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius) by the end of the 21st century.  The NRC report also emphasized that "much more systematic research is needed to reduce current uncertainties in climate-change science."  (11/20/01)

On November 10th, world environment and energy ministers at the COP7 conference in Marrakesh finally agreed on the details to implement the Kyoto Protocol, which will commit developed countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming.  The British Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, called it a "remarkable day for the environment" after the deal was reached in Morocco on Saturday providing a detailed rulebook to govern the 1997 treaty.  The conference members established the penalties that countries will face if they fail to reach their targets, how they can buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases, and the details for annual emissions reports by each nation.  More than 180 countries put the finishing touches on the Kyoto agreement with the United States on the sidelines.  Although in attendance at the meeting, the U.S. was not involved in negotiations since President Bush pulled out of the Kyoto pact, calling it "fatally flawed" and contrary to the nation's economic interests.  Some see this as the U.S. isolating itself at a time when it seeks global cooperation to fight terrorism.

Kyoto will come into legal force when it is ratified by 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of the 1990 carbon dioxide emissions.  Because the U.S. pulled out of the treaty in March, its survival now depends on both Russia and Japan ratifying it.  In hopes that ratification will be successful, European Union leaders made last-minute concessions granting flexibility to the rules and additional economic advantage to Russia, Japan, Australia, and Canada.  Russia, for example, was granted a concession doubling the amount of credits it could claim for "carbon sinks," which are forests and agricultural land that absorb carbon dioxide, from 17.6 million tons to 33 million tons.  According to a November 12th Greensheets, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reported that President Bush "agrees with the need to reduce greenhouse emissions," and that a Cabinet review is underway "to determine a way that can be done without forcing America into a deep recession."  (11/12/01)

Recently released information has provided new fuel for the ozone debate.  Chemicals such as n-propyl bromide, halon 1202, hexachlorobutadiene, and 6-bromo-2-methoxyl-naphthalene, among others, have been used to replace the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned under the Montreal Protocol because of their effects on ozone depletion.  These replacement chemicals, however, may pose their own threat to the ozone layer, according to a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) press release.  Mario Molina, an atmospheric science professor at MIT, hypothesizes that if enough of these chemicals are manufactured and emitted, they will significantly delay the recovery of the ozone layer.  UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer states that some of these chemicals "may prove to be no threat at all to the ozone layer, although they may pose threats to human health, wildlife, and the environment generally."  He added, however, that some of the replacements "may have the potential to cause significant damage to stratospheric ozone."  This issue will be discussed at the 13th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on October 15-19, 2001. (9/18/01)

The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) now has a directory of online reports on their website entitled The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change.  All published in 2000 and 2001, the National Assessment Overview and Foundation reports summarize key findings for what the impacts of climate change will be on the US, including assessments for individual regions.  They also detail the program's methods and assessment process.  The USGCRP was created in 1989 as a Presidential Initiative, and formalized in 1990 by the Global Change Research Act of 1990(8/15/01)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced that it is shelving a $100 million climate monitoring satellite originally slated for launch later this year.  Reportedly conceived by then-Vice President Al Gore in the middle of the night, the satellite Triana was designed to study the Earth's climate and monitor global warming from a point between the earth and the sun called L1.  From this point, the sun's gravity is partially offset by that of the Earth, and the satellite would rotate to keep the sun in line with the Earth.  This would provide a view of the Earth in continuous daylight, something that scientists have never been able to see before.  The instruments on the ship would be able to measure changes in the Earth's climate with greater accuracy that the current system of using multiple satellites.  Although Triana's cancellation comes at a time when many are calling for more research on climate change (especially on climate modeling) the satellite has fallen victim to partisan opposition in Congress and budgetary constraints.  While Gore was running for president last year, Congress won passage of a bill that delayed the project pending a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review.  Although a favorable report resulted, the delay cost Triana its slot in the shuttle schedule.  In addition, budgetary pressures, such as the building of the International Space Station, have forced NASA to cut back on the frequency of its shuttle missions.  Triana will be stored at NASA's Goddard Space Center in Maryland.  More information about Triana can be found on NASA's website. (8/8/01)

In floor speeches on August 3rd, the last day before the August recess, Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) called for an economy-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the US.  Although the two have yet to introduce separate legislation on the matter, their plan would expand upon S. 556, a bill introduced by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) that limits emissions of carbon dioxide and three other pollutants from power plants.  The Kyoto Protocol, which has been rejected by the Bush administration, calls for an international GHG credit trading system that may leave US companies at a disadvantage since the US has chosen not to participate in the protocol.  McCain and Lieberman stated that creating a cap-and-trade system in the US would help regain its leadership position in global environmental affairs.  So far, the Senate has been the center of activity for legislative action dealing with climate change.  The Governmental Affairs Committee, which Lieberman chairs, passed the Climate Change Strategy and Technology Innovation Act (S. 1008) on August 2nd.  However, on August 1st, the GOP introduced competing language to S. 1008, the Climate Change Risk Management Act, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Frank Murkowski (R-AK), and Larry Craig (R-ID).  A press release announcing the GOP bill is available at Hagel's website. (8/6/01)

In the latest action on the Kyoto Protocol, international climate change talks were held in Bonn, Germany from July 16th to the 23rd.  On the first day of the talks, the 15 leaders of the European Union made a declaration vowing to fulfill the treaty commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the hopes of pulling a reluctant Japan and the United States back into the talks.  Although the United States sent a delegation headed by Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, its position from the start was that the protocol is fatally flawed and that the US would not support it.  Japan did participate in negotiations, pressing for provisions to make the treaty more flexible for industrialized nations.  All countries except the US reached and signed an agreement intended to pave the way for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.  Earlier in July, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the US would be formulating an alternative strategy to be released in October at the Morocco climate change discussions, but at the end of the month, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that the Bush administration has not set a deadline for unveiling an alternative to the protocol. (8/3/01)

No name is more closely associated with opposition to the Kyoto Protocol than that of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), who co-sponsored the 1997 Byrd-Hagel resolution (S. RES 98)  opposing any international climate treaty that did not include developing nations and was harmful to the US economy. The resolution passed 95-0 and was a major factor in the Clinton administration's decision not to seek ratification of Kyoto. Now Byrd says that the Senate resolution "should not be used as an excuse by the Bush administration to abandon America's shared responsibility to help find a solution to the global climate change dilemma." He and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) have introduced legislation to centralize climate change response efforts in the US as a potential beginning to a US strategy for dealing with climate change.  The Climate Change Strategy and Technology Innovation Act, S. 1008, amends the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to develop a United States Climate Change Response Strategy with a goal of stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere without adverse economic impacts.  One of the major provisions in the bill is the creation of a National Office of Climate Change Response within the Executive Office of the President with authorized funds of up to $5 million a year until 2011.  Other goals of the bill include aligning the climate change response strategy with a national energy policy, promoting sound national environmental policy, creating an independent review board to report to Congress to ensure that goals are achieved, and the establishment of a research and development program office in the Department of Energy (DOE) for climate change response technology.  The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on S. 1008 on July 18th and passed it on August 2nd.  (8/3/01)

Climate change has become a hot issue in Washington lately due largely to the ongoing debate over the Kyoto Protocol.  President Bush has publicly repeated that he believes the protocol is "fatally flawed," largely because it puts unfair restrictions on the United States and leaves developing nations free of the emission adjustments.  In Bush's visit to Europe in early June 2001, it became apparent that he and the European Union (EU) are very much at odds over the protocol, with most nations in the EU willing to ratify the treaty.  However, in order to come into effect, the protocol needs to be ratified by nations collectively responsible for 55% of total global emissions.  Without the U.S., which produces approximately 25% of total emissions each year, the nations of the Europe are facing a more difficult challenge.  To complicate matters even further, Japan, another major player in the ratification game, recently announced that it would not back the protocol without US support.  Japan has, however, pledged to work with EU nations to convince the Bush Administration to reconsider its position on Kyoto.  (7/3/01)

Earlier this year, in preparation for a summit in Europe to discuss the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration's Cabinet-level working group to review the status of U.S. climate change efforts sought additional input from the National Academy of Science.  The result was a report that came out in early June entitled Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, intended to send President Bush to Europe fully informed on the status of climate change research in the U.S. and the world, as well as how the research should influence policy.  Although the report did state that uncertainties remain regarding natural climate variation and current climate models, its primary emphasis was that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities."  However, while in Europe discussing the Kyoto Protocol, Bush seemed to place more emphasis on the uncertainties the report confirmed.  Although Bush has stated he is open to policy that will deal with climate change, he has not some out in support of the Protocol.  (7/3/01)

Despite the administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the recent NAS report and public concern has made formulating some form of response climate change an unavoidable issue for both Congress and the President.  Throughout the 107th session, Congress has held multiple hearings on a variety of issues related to climate change:

On July 24, 2001, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met to hear testimony on voluntary greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies for the energy industry and other members of the private sector.  The hearing focused on general practices and technologies, such as carbon sequestration, that companies are pursuing to reduce emissions, and discussed several bills related to the issue.  Introduced May 2001, the Forest Resources for the Environment and the Economy Act (S. 820), seeks to increase carbon storage on national forests and to facilitate voluntary and accurate reporting of forest projects that reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.  Provisions of two other bills from the 106th Congress dealing with climate change issues, S. 882 and S. 1776, were also brought up in hearing discussion.  Speaking at the hearing were administration representatives from the Department of Energy and the U.S. Forest Service as well as representatives of the private sector addressing the efforts of industry to address climate change concerns.

On July 10, 2001, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation met to hear testimony on technological and policy options that may serve as starting points for mitigating anthropogenic contributions to global climate change.  Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) was Acting Chair for the hearing in the absence of Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-SC).  Kerry opened the hearing by calling for a movement beyond the scientific debates that have prevented Congress from taking any legislative action to address climate change thus far.  He did praise former Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) for the committee's previous work on the subject.  Witnesses included a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) representative, the lone representative of the current administration, as well as two other panels of witness representing climate change analysis efforts and proponents of alternative energy sources, respectively.  Kerry expressed dismay that representatives from the State Department and White House Chief of Staff declined to testify at the hearing.

On June 28, 2001, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources convened to hear testimony on science and technology related to climate change issues.  Witnesses from the first panel were members of the National Academy of Science committee commissioned to help inform the Administration on the greatest certainties and uncertainties related to climate change.  On the second panel were witnesses offering perspectives on the various technologies with which humans can potentially respond to climate change.  Although attendance was sparse due to a concurrent Department of the Interior Appropriations bill mark-up session, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) were present to hear the panels' testimonies on this particular facet of the climate change issue. (7/3/01)

Previous Action the the 107th Congress
On May 23, 2001, the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space held a hearing to examine issues related to carbon sequestration.  Subcommittee Chairman Sam Brownback (R-KS) opened the hearing with comments on his legislation that "encourages conservation practices . . . that convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon trapped in soil and trees, [a process that] helps reduce the threat of global climate change, and improves the quality of our soil, water, air, and wildlife habitat."  The panel outlined current research on measuring carbon in the soil and the forest vegetation and discussed current carbon sequestration projects which have been successful. (5/30/01)

On May 2, 2001, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing to gather information on the current state of global climate change and solutions to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.  Committee Chairman Robert Smith (R-NH) opened the hearing by cautioning the committee and Congress to proceed carefully with legislation involving the reduction of CO2 emissions, stating that "an appropriate policy should recognize both the economic and environmental hazards of too little or too much action regarding climate change."  Ranking Democrat Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) countered by advocating the need for a plan that reduces emissions, citing President Bush's energy policy plan as counterproductive to this cause.  Testifying before the committee were several meteorologists and atmospheric scientists, as well as an energy corporation executive. (6/1/01)

On May 1, 2001, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened to discuss the third report in a series done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), known as the Third Assessment Report, which asserts a firmer association between human activities and global climate change.  Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) opened the hearing by giving a brief overview of the purpose of the IPCC's assessment reports and discussing their implications for future science and policy decisions, including the status of the Kyoto Protocol (Full Text) .  McCain emphasized his interest in achieving a full understanding of this global issue so as to appropriately incorporate the information into effective policy measures.  Several Senators as well as scientists involved with the report spoke to the committee about the latest set of issues regarding the state of global climate change. (6/1/01)

On April 24, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced the International Carbon Conservation Act (S. 769) and the Carbon Sequestration Investment Tax Credit Act (S. 765) to encourage the use of carbon sequestration to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and otherwise improve environmental quality. S.769 would establish a program within the Department of Commerce to encourage landowners to conduct carbon sequestration activities in other countries. S. 765 would give tax credits to businesses that successfully implement a carbon sequestration program. (4/26/01)

On March 29, in reaction to outcry from environmental groups as well as some European countries that support the Kyoto Protocol, President Bush defended the Administration's position not to request ratification of the treaty or to require utilities to limit carbon dioxide emissions. He said that in order to meet carbon dioxide caps called for by the treaty the US would have to perform the "impossible" task of putting a lot of natural gas immediately into the system. "We are now in an energy crisis," he stated, "We need an active exploration order to make sure that we've got enough gas to be able to help reduce greenhouse emissions in the country."  Vice President Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham have also spoken out in favor of increasing domestic natural gas production to ease the power crunch while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. (4/10/01)

Statements made by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman on March 27 made clear that the Administration will not support ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, despite the urgings of other industrialized nations. Other actions by the Administration in opposition to the treaty include a March 13th letter to the State Department from President Bush requesting information on how the US could withdraw its signature from the 1997 agreement. The US is still expected to participate in international negotiations on the issue of climate change set to continue this July in Bonn, Germany.  (3/28/01)

On March 14, 2001, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) held his first climate change hearing. It focused on gaps in current knowledge and future needs for a comprehensive research agenda. In his opening statement, Boehlert announced that the committee will hold future hearings to address climate change policy issues. He called the Bush Administration's reversal of its position on carbon dioxide emissions earlier that day "misguided and unjustified."  Boehlert's opening remarks and statements made by other committee members made clear that most of them support continued research into the still unresolved questions surrounding climate change. The representatives, not strictly along party lines, disagreed on what current science is telling us, and what if anything should be done about it. (3/31/01)

On March 13th, President Bush sent a letter to four Republican senators clarifying his position on regulation of carbon dioxide. The letter resulted in extensive press coverage as it reversed a campaign pledge. In the letter, President Bush defends the reversal on the basis of new information that "warrants a reevaluation." That information -- contained in a Department of Energy report -- indicated "that including caps on carbon dioxide emissions...would lead to...significantly higher electricity prices." Extensive excerpts from the letter are available in AIP FYI. (3/18/01)

According to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, the Bush Administration recognizes that the problems associated with global warming are real.  She said, "while scientists can't predict where the droughts will occur, where the flooding will occur, or when, we know they will occur.  The science is strong there."  As for emissions control, Bush may support regulating power plant emissions of carbon dioxide under a "multi-pollutant" approach to the Clean Air Act. (3/5/01)

Global climate change has remained a pertinent topic in government and the scientific community due to the serious threats that its effects may pose to human society.  During the 105th and 106th Congresses, several legislative proposals were made in response to the possibility of the U.S. ratifying two international treaties: the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and a follow-up agreement made in Buenos Aires in the fall of 1998.  The Kyoto Protocol is designed to decrease global carbon dioxide emissions in an agreement between many nations.  The discussions for this measure began in 1997 but the treaty cannot go into effect until it is ratified by major carbon dioxide emitters such as the United States.  The measure has not been ratified by the U.S. primarily because of congressional critics who see the treaty as deeply flawed.  In particular they point out that it fails to hold developing nations, such as China and India, to the same standards as developed nations in greenhouse gas emissions.  Language attached to appropriations bills enacted in the 106th Congress ensure that the federal government does not pursue the goals of the Kyoto Protocol before the Senate has considered the treaty.

In November 2000, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) at the Hague to discuss ways in which nations and other organizations represented could implement the Kyoto Protocol and the goals set forth at the Convention on Climate Change Negotiations at the Hague ultimately broke down over disagreements between the United States and the European Union on the role of carbon sequestration.  Language in the Kyoto Protocol focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but does not prohibit developed countries from receiving credit for sequestering carbon in long-term "sinks" such as forests and agricultural soil or by injection into deep wells.

The U.S. government has supported research in carbon sequestration and understanding the carbon cycle in hopes of using the results to maximize sequestration credits.  The European Union argued that doing so would short-circuit the treaty's central goal of emissions reduction.  The representatives have suspended the discussion until the COP7 meeting in Morocco in May or June of 2001.  A complete history of the UNFCC negotiations is available on the National Council for Science and the Environment website, in the Congressional Research Service Report RL30962. The U.S. Global Change Research Program website is updated every two weeks with new developments in global change issues. The Congressional Research Service also has produced reports avaliable online about climate change policy and the Kyoto Protocol.

In addition, other updates on the AGI site contain information on actions taken in the 105th and 106th Congresses, National Research Council Report summaries, and conference summaries.

Sources:   American Institute of Physics,, NOAA, IPCC Report Summary for Policymakers, IPCC website, UNFCC website, Green Sheets Newsroom, Greenwire, Environment and Energy Daily, the Washington Post, NRC Report, SSI Update, Hearing testimony, APS News online

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Spring 2001 AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern Mary Patterson, Summer 2001 AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern Caetie Ofiesh, Fall 2001 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Catherine Macris, Spring 2002 AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Heather R. Golding, Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Intern Sarah Riggen, and Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program.

 Posted February 18, 2001; Last Updated January 5, 2003.

  Information Services |Geoscience Education |Public Policy |Environmental
Publications |Workforce |AGI Events

agi logo

© 2016. All rights reserved.
American Geosciences Institute, 4220 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22302-1502.
Please send any comments or problems with this site to:
Privacy Policy