President Bush rejects Kyoto Protocol but will consider emission reductions

The United States is prepared to work with its allies on global warming but considers emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol the wrong way to do it, Christine Todd Whitman said Friday.

Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation that the president wants to be "proactive" on climate change, but would not support Kyoto.

"The U.S. wants to work with its allies to get a doable, achievable program on climate change," Whitman, who has earned scorn and sympathy for her stances on the environment, said, noting the Senate voted unanimously against the premise of the Kyoto framework during the Clinton administration.

"It was difficult to imagine a scenario under which that treaty" would have been ratified by the Senate, she said.

In late March, President Bush declared the 1997 Kyoto pact not in the best interests of the United States, killing any chances of American participation in international efforts to finalize and ratify the accord by next year.

Bush's move has set off a storm of protest from many nations, and prompted the European Union to announce that it would assume leadership on getting the treaty in place by 2002, even without U.S. involvement.

Whitman had been telling American allies the administration would seek limits on carbon before the president said he had changed his mind, undercutting her credibility.

Kyoto calls for major industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Bush said the economic impacts of cutting fossil fuel use, and the fact developing nations like China were not forced to cut emissions, led to his denial of the treaty process.

When asked if the Kyoto pact were dead, Whitman said it was not up to Washington to declare the process "dead," since other countries must decide on their own what position to take.

"The Kyoto Protocol was signed by 54 parties, but only one of the 54 has ratified. Clearly, there are real concerns" by other nations, Whitman said.

"We are committed to addressing climate change, and have started a Cabinet-level review of previous policies on climate change. When we're finished with that, we'll make our recommendation to the president," she said.

Whitman made clear the administration's support for a voluntary approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of which comes in the form of carbon dioxide pollution generated by power plants, automobiles and heavy industry.

She said "voluntary efforts (in the United States) have already had a positive impact," leading to declines in the growth of carbon emissions even as the economy expanded dramatically in recent years.

Whitman, who received a partial standing ovation when she finished her talk to the conservation group, also defended other environmental decisions by the administration.

She said the suspension of a new rule to restrict arsenic in drinking water needs time for further review, and the administration should not be prejudged for its motives.