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President Backs Plan to Address Global Warming

April 22, 1993|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In his first major environmental policy speech, President Clinton Wednesday declared that he is committed to stabilizing the country's emissions of atmosphere-warming pollutants at 1990 levels by the year 2000 and cutting them further in later years.

The decision, in Clinton's Earth Day speech, pleased environmentalists and follows a last-minute behind-the-scenes struggle between Administration aides on how far Clinton should go in wedding himself to a policy that could complicate his goals for sustained economic growth.

But Clinton stopped short of committing himself, as some environmentalists had wished, to higher auto fuel-efficiency standards, or to fuel taxes that would curtail consumption.

Instead, he called for a "cost-effective plan" that would be "a clarion call not for more bureaucracy or unnecessary costs, but instead for American ingenuity and creativity to produce the best and most efficient technology."

Clinton committed himself during the 1992 campaign to stabilizing greenhouse gases and environmentalists had been waiting for some time to hear him reaffirm that pledge. "He said it over and over and over," said Jim Maddy, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters.

Aides said that the emission-reduction plan Administration officials will devise by August will emphasize voluntary industry efforts to increase energy efficiency and promotion of technologies that will help the nation cut its output of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons and other greenhouse gases.

Also Wednesday to commemorate Earth Day today, Clinton, as expected, declared that he will sign a biological diversity treaty aimed at protecting threatened species. President George Bush had balked at signing the treaty for fear it would hurt the patents of American biotechnology firms that use some rare species to make drugs and other products.

But Clinton Administration officials have worked out a deal with industry that they believe guarantees the treaty will protect their rights even as it sets limits on exploitation of plants and animals. The treaty is important, he said Wednesday, "not only because of what it does to protect species, but because of opportunities it offers for cutting-edge companies whose research creates new opportunities, new medicines, new products and new jobs."

The internal struggle over atmospheric pollutants began in recent days as officials of the Treasury and Energy departments urged the White House not to commit itself to cutting the gases, since the Administration has not had time to determine how such efforts would affect American industry. Those pleas elicited counterpressure from environmental officials in the Administration.

Environmentalists from a number of groups welcomed Clinton's remarks. "This is a major commitment on a major priority of the environmental community," said Daniel Lashof, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Counsel.

But White House aides were quick to explain that Clinton's words did not necessarily endorse the fuel taxes and rules on fuel economy that environmentalists consider the most direct route to lower emissions. "No one in the White House was talking about higher taxes," said Marla Romash, press secretary to Vice President Al Gore.

And Dee Dee Myers, Clinton's press secretary, said that there is "certainly no commitment" to higher fuel-efficiency rules. She said that Clinton supports a 40-miles-per-gallon fleet average "as a goal" but added that Clinton would not make such a rule mandatory "unless there is technology available to make that happen." Average vehicle fuel efficiency is now 27.5 miles per gallon.

Asked to cite specific steps the Administration will seek, Romash cited an industry consortium that is working to develop a cleaner automobile. She mentioned the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to develop a more environmentally sound lighting technology and the efforts of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to develop lower-emission power plants.

"We're trying to work with industry," she said.

And aides said that the "action plan" the Administration will develop will be entirely a voluntary commitment, rather than a binding part of an international environmental treaty on global warming.

While most environmentalists reacted positively to the plan, there was some dissent. "I'll acknowledge his good intentions but I don't see how you can do it without taxes or fuel standards," said one environmental activist.

In his speech, delivered at Washington's Botanical Gardens, Clinton also called for the national biological survey that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has advocated. The survey's aim would be to provide a complete inventory of the nation's plant and animal species.

Clinton also ordered the federal government to take several steps to improve its environmental practices. He signed an order committing the government to buy thousands of vehicles using clean fuels such as natural gas, ethanol, methanol and electric power.

He called for an energy and environmental audit of the White House, committed the federal government to using energy efficient computers and said he would insist that federal agencies buy and use recycled materials.

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