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US Candidates Avoid Hard Facts On Cuts In Greenhouse Gases

Agence France-Presse in Washington – Updated on Apr 21, 2008

All three White House hopefuls say global warming is a priority – but all avoid the politically unpopular details of slashing harmful emissions, experts say.

Environmentalists agree that any of the candidates would be an improvement over US President George W. Bush, whose term expires in 2009 and who vowed last week to cap emissions from the United States, a leading world polluter, after 2025.

But while green groups fret over whether the next president will be aggressive enough, business groups caution that job losses and spiking energy prices will accompany any efforts to put a mandatory halt to pollution.

Senator John McCain, 71, the likely Republican nominee, is the least favourite among environmentalists even though he is considered unusually green for a conservative.

He supports the use of nuclear energy to limit carbon emissions and reduce US dependence on oil from abroad, and has not specified mandatory levels for capping emissions or use of renewable energy.

“Everyone knows that John McCain has been a leader in the fight against global climate change and he believes the time for action is now,” his spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

Asked if Mr Bush’s proposal went far enough, Mr Bounds said the president’s speech offered a chance for the world “to welcome an important ally in working against carbon emissions and other issues. That’s the extent of what I’m going to say about it”.

Senator McCain has drawn criticism from the League of Conservation Voters for being inconsistent in his Senate votes on environmental issues. Greenpeace said his support for nuclear power was impractical.

“To avoid the most significant impacts of global warming we need to make significant reductions within a seven-year window. Nuclear will not get us there because it takes 10 years or more to build a nuclear plant,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Jane Kochersperger said.

“The problem is we need to have substantive discussions about the viability in terms of technology as well as jobs and the environment.”

Cathy Duvall, political director of the Sierra Club, the largest US environmental group, called Senator McCain’s solutions “outdated”.

Democrat senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are nearly identical in their stances on the environment: both support a system of mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions coupled with a trading system of allowances, called “cap and trade”.

Both also want renewable energy to supply 25 per cent of the US economy’s needs by 2025, to slash carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, higher fuel efficiency standards and bigger biofuel reserves by 2030.

“We haven’t made a determination of one over the other,” said David Sandretti, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters which, like the Sierra Club, has yet to make a political endorsement.

The campaigns of Senator Obama and Senator Clinton did not respond to requests for comment.

Greenpeace has also struggled to get specifics, according to Ms Kochersperger, who blamed the close Democratic race for the nomination and the battle for blue-collar votes ahead of the crucial primary in the state of Pennsylvania tomorrow.

Democrats “don’t want to rile those voters at this juncture. They are not being completely honest about what needs to be done”, she said.

Job cuts could arise from coal plant closures, and higher energy prices could force US businesses to move their factories abroad, according to William Kovacs, vice-president of environmental issues at the US Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber does not endorse any presidential candidates, but supports expanded use of nuclear energy and is opposed to cap-and-trade legislation, known as the Warner-Lieberman bill, which is being debated in the US Senate.

The bill will “literally legislate prices higher because you will restrict the ability to use energy”, Mr Kovacs said, adding that any new US laws should not harm the economy, be international in scope and based on usable technology.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the legislation would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent in 2030 and cut gross domestic product by between US$238 billion and US$983 billion. Electricity prices would rise 44 per cent in 2030 and 26 per cent in 2050, it said.

But environmental groups say the long-term benefits to the Earth are far greater. “We feel that these dire predictions are unfounded, and do not even begin to touch on the health benefits of making air and water cleaner,” Mr Sandretti said.

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