Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE

Climate Change Legislation Introduced in Senate


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

IN A NUTSHELL: Climate change continues to be a high-priority environmental issue in Congress as well as an issue that has sparked considerable debate in the geoscience community. This special update reports on legislation recently introduced by Senator John Chafee (R-RI) to provide US companies with credits for voluntary greenhouse-gas reductions. The bill's co-sponsors have made clear that support for the bill does not translate into support for the Kyoto Protocol, which many of them oppose. The Chafee bill has supporters in both the environmental community and the industrial sector, and consequently it is widely viewed as perhaps the only climate change legislation that stands a good chance of passage in this Congress.

On March 4th, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John Chafee (R-RI) introduced S. 547, the Credit for Voluntary Reductions Act of 1999. In his introductory remarks, Chafee said, "There is growing certainty in the international scientific community, and indeed within our own business community, that human actions may eventually cause harmful disturbances to our global climate system." He continued by acknowledging that a great deal of uncertainty exists in the manner in which the US will address this issue. Because of this uncertainty, he said, business leaders are reluctant to take action to reduce emissions because they believe that these actions would not be credited under a future system. Chafee said, "it is this uncertainty, this regulatory and financial risk, that our legislation intends to diminish."

Chafee's bill would allow the president to enter "a legally binding early action agreement" with businesses. These businesses would be given credits for their greenhouse gas reductions made over a baseline during the voluntary period. These credits can be for activities to reduce emissions and sequester carbon, including actions taken overseas. The bill proposes using emission levels from 1996 through 1998 as a baseline. Chafee stated, "Because we do not know when, if ever, the US will impose emissions reductions, we do now know the duration of the actual voluntary period. The bill does, however, establish a 10-year sunset on the voluntary crediting period." Businesses would be responsible for measuring, tracking, and reporting their emissions. The bill is similar to one he introduced towards the end of the 105th Congress (S. 2617) but contains several changes aimed at making the bill more acceptable to industry. For example, S. 547 does not proposed to amend the Clean Air Act and place the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of the program, as last year's bill did.

Chafee emphasized that he in no way supports the US ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 United Nations treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the 11 bipartisan original cosponsors made the point even more clearly in their remarks on the Senate floor. Senator John Warner (R-VA) said, "I continue to feel strongly that the [Kyoto] protocol is fatally flawed. This bill is about protecting United States companies that have or are interested in taking voluntary steps to lower their output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases." Other Senators, however, who believe the US has a role in international emission reductions support the bill as well. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called the bill "an insurance policy to protect us from the dangers of climate change."

Reaction to Chafee Bill

Outside Congress, the bill has some unlikely allies. Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill is "a bipartisan breakthrough which can jump-start emissions reductions." Similarly, Kevin Fay, executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, a business group whose membership includes British Petroleum-Amoco, General Motors, and General Electric, said that his group has "consistently stressed the need to provide legally binding assurances that voluntary actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be credited in any future mandatory scheme adopted by the government."

Although the Chafee bill appears to have more support than previous climate change initiatives, it is likely to have a difficult journey. Several senators believe it will increase support for the Kyoto Protocol and oppose it on those grounds. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-AK) said the bill is "clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse." He said lawmakers "should not rush to implement a treaty that has not been ratified or even submitted to the Senate." In addition, several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, criticized the bill for having too many loopholes. They joined with other environmental groups to issue a statement that the bill " could only move forward with major alterations." In showing the strange bedfellows that this bill has produced, the Sierra Club and Ozone Action went even farther by joining with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is a vocal opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, to voice their opposition to the bill.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee tentatively has scheduled a hearing on the bill for March 24th. For additional information on climate change policy issues, please visit the AGI web site at:

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs

Sources: Environmental and Energy Study Institute Weekly Bulletin, Washington Post, Greenwire

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

Posted March 17, 1999

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