US President Bill Clinton called Saturday for new rules to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury emissions from US electric power plants through a system of caps and trades, similar to the one is use for nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Specifically targeting carbon dioxide (CO2) for the first time, Clinton said the US needs a "comprehensive new clean air strategy that will produce significant reductions in the emissions that contribute to global warming."
At the same time, Clinton asked for curbs on mercury emissions from power plants. Under the cap and trade system, the government would set national limits on emissions and divide pollution allowances among power plants. Under that system, companies can cut emissions enough to be within their allowances or they can cut emissions even more and sell the extra amount to other companies that have not reached the targeted allowances.
Clinton said an integrated strategy covering all four pollutants would provide planning certainty to the utility industry and reduce the cost of cutting the emissions on a pollutant-by-pollutant basis. This "four pollutant" approach would establish national emissions standards, or 'caps' on SO2, NOx, mercury, and CO2.
In his speech, Clinton did not say how much emissions of mercury or CO2 should be cut, nor did he specify what electric utilities can do to generate allowances. Among the possibilities are switching to natural gas from coal, a trend already well under way, or burning fuel more efficiently. Natural gas-fired units produce less CO 2 and mercury emissions.
A spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing investor-owned utilities, said the industry expects the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce rules regulating mercury between now and December.
The industry is hopeful the Administration will not announce rules "that foreclose a cap and trade system down the road," he said.
In a paper released beforehand, the Administration said electricity generation is the largest source of air pollution in the US, releasing more than two-thirds of the nation's SO2, and approximately one-third of CO2, NOx, and mercury emissions. Many of these pollutants are emitted by older power plants that are specifically exempted from clean air rules, it noted.
Expansion of pollution rules would require action by Congress and Clinton urged legislators to take up the proposal as soon as possible. Without action, the Administration argues a global treaty to reduce risk of global warning is likely to fail.
Clinton's proposal comes as United Nations delegates meet at The Hague in the Netherlands to discuss how to implement the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 climate-change treaty negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, which the US signed but has never submitted to Senate for ratification.
Global warning can lead to loss of ecosystems, including alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains and low-lying barrier reefs; increased flooding or drought, depending on the region; and long-term shifts in forest species, among other potential significant atmospheric changes, according to the Administration.
The Administration also observed that between 1998-1999, US greenhouse gas emissions grew by just 1% while the overall gross domestic product grew 8%.