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Bipartisan Panel Seeks Greenhouse Gas Limits

By Juliet Eilperin and Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 8, 2004; Page A06

A bipartisan commission that includes energy industry executives, environmentalists and academics will issue a report today that calls on the nation to adopt mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, set stricter fuel economy standards and promote nuclear power, renewable energy and oil exploration.

The two-year effort, funded by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, seeks to break a national impasse on energy policy. The commission said its recommendations seek a balance between environmental progress and economic growth.

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The study comes several months before Congress plans to consider new energy legislation, including a controversial plan to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as tax incentives for nuclear energy production.

"What we believe we have done is opened a new page, with a balanced set of supply and demand proposals," said co-chairman William K. Reilly, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush. "Taken together, the commission's recommendations aim to achieve a gradual but decisive shift in the nation's energy policy, toward one that directly addresses our long-term oil, climate, electricity supply and technological challenges."

The group plans to spend the next year lobbying for its plan and aims to bring together opposing factions in the energy debate with a market-based approach.

Its climate proposal calls for slowing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, then freezing the level of emissions for 10 years before cutting back on them in 2030. Starting in 2010, the government would require a 2.4 percent annual reduction in greenhouse gas "intensity," a measure of the amount of emissions in relation to the level of economic activity.

The Bush administration has called for a voluntary reduction in greenhouse gas intensity of 1.8 percent per year from 2002 to 2012.

The government would issue emissions permits at no cost to emitters in 2010, sell a small pool of permits to new emitters and allow all companies to buy and sell the credits. If the cost of containing heat-trapping gases rises significantly, polluters could buy additional permits at $7 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, which would contain the plan's overall costs but could hamper its ability to achieve climate goals.

Dana Perino, spokeswoman for the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates environmental matters, said the administration opposes the plan because it would raise energy costs and push "industries to move jobs overseas, and that does not result in the environmental benefit all of us are seeking."

But she said the White House embraced other aspects of the commission's plan, such as funding renewable energy projects and building a natural gas pipeline in Alaska.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he hopes the proposal will lead to new discussions on energy issues.

"It's time to get some fresh thinking on these issues," he said.

Scott Segal, who represents several electric utilities as director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said he could not endorse a mandatory program, but he agreed the commission is right to begin "the hard work of grappling with energy policy sooner rather than later."

Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, said the proposal is "inadequate ecologically to get us to climate stabilization," but he welcomed the group's support for mandatory carbon dioxide limits.

The report recommends boosting oil supplies while taking steps to conserve them. It said the United States should apply diplomatic pressure to encourage countries with "underdeveloped" oil reserves to allow foreign investment and increase production.

To reduce consumption, the commission is calling for a significant increase in vehicle fuel economy standards, which Congress has repeatedly resisted. The group suggested a system in which manufacturers could trade fuel economy credits within fleets as well as between companies.


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