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Leaving Bush Behind 

Companies make peace with Kyoto Protocol

Thursday, Mar 3 2005
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Now that the Kyoto Protocol has taken effect in 141 countries, the Bush administration’s wall of opposition to action on global warming is crumbling as states, cities and companies move to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Even Republican governors — like California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York’s George Pataki — back policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to save energy and avoid potential legal liability. The treaty — which took effect February 16, after Russia ratified it late last year — seeks to cut by about 5 percent emissions of carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuel that, like a greenhouse, traps the sun’s energy. Scientists broadly agree that the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the Earth, triggering major climatic consequences, such as the breakup of the polar ice caps and more intense storms and droughts, as witnessed recently in California. Bush opposes the treaty and has helped block U.S. ratification. Yet many major companies recognize that emissions cuts will be required and are moving to control carbon dioxide already. “In an increasingly integrated and globalized world, more companies are operating internationally, and they’re forced to comply with the Kyoto regime abroad,” said J. Andrew Hoerner, director of research for Redefining Progress, a sustainable-economics think tank in Oakland. To deal with the treaty’s requirements, many companies simply are putting all their operations under a uniform standard, said Joel Levin, vice president of business development for the California Climate Action Registry in Los Angeles. The registry certifies and tracks emissions of carbon dioxide so companies can take credit for emissions reductions as they eventually become required. PacifiCorp is one company that already is reducing emissions. The Portland, Oregon, electric utility serves a small slice of Northern California. “Our overall strategy is preparing for a carbon-constrained world,” said Bill Edmonds, environmental-policy director for the company, which is owned by Scottish Power. Under a parent-company mandate, PacifiCorp is making a major investment in wind power and reforesting areas of the Pacific Northwest, since trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Some major companies also face shareholder initiatives and lawsuits calling for emissions reductions. Last year, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer joined in a suit with seven other states and New York City against five large coal power-plant operators in the Midwest and South. One company named in the suit, Cinergy of Cincinnati, Ohio, already is pursuing a voluntary program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5 percent below its year-2000 level by 2012. Other firms simply are looking to save money, particularly since cutting greenhouse-gas emissions usually means increasing energy efficiency, according to Hoerner of Redefining Progress. The organization released a report last month showing that California residents and businesses would save enough money to create some 65,000 new jobs through the spending boom that would result from cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Last month, for instance, Calpine, owner of 21 power plants in the United States, became one of the first companies in California to certify its greenhouse gases with the registry and has established programs to reduce emissions, according to Peggy Duxbury, director of government and environmental affairs for the firm. One program is to install new high-efficiency turbines that cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent to 60 percent, including one planned for the Los Angeles basin. Calpine also is exploring with the U.S. Department of Energy how to capture carbon dioxide from one of its California power plants and “sequester” it underground so it will not enter the atmosphere. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison have certified their emissions too, said Levin. Meanwhile, states and cities are racing to establish greenhouse-gas emissions reduction programs. Ten Northeastern states, including New York, where Pataki is leading the charge, are putting together a joint program that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and by another 10 percent by 2020. Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Oakland have joined other cities across the nation in an initiative, spearheaded by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, to meet Kyoto requirements at the local level. Starbucks chief executive officer Orin Smith heads up the mayor’s advisory panel for the initiative. California struck an early blow to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by setting landmark carbon dioxide emissions standards for autos in 2004, although the state faces a court challenge from automakers. Late last year, Schwarzenegger entered a climate-protection pact with the governors of Washington and Oregon to reduce carbon dioxide emissions on the fast-growing West Coast. The governors entered the pact after a Tellus Institute study showed it would save money. To kick off the pact in California, the state Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) late last month hosted a multiagency meeting to plan ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from regulated industries such as electric utilities and phone companies. “This meeting was put together recognizing there is momentum building,” said Lainie Motamedi, an environmental analyst for the CPUC. The commission asked companies to prepare reports pledging steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Later this month, the commission will begin fashioning mandatory emission-reduction standards for the electric-power industry. Many of the changes will be transparent to people, said Motamedi, such as stricter energy-efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances. The commission also is planning to require regulated utilities to purchase cars with minimal carbon dioxide emissions, such as hybrids.

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