Do the Math: White House Global Warming Plan Cooks the Books

CO2 Pollution Would Continue Increasing at Same Rate as Past Decade Enron-Style Accounting Trick Hides Growing Damage Behind Veil of Progress

WASHINGTON (February 14, 2002) - The global warming plan announced by President Bush today uses a brazen accounting trick to mask the fact that -- even if his voluntary emissions targets are actually achieved -- heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution would keep increasing at almost exactly the same rate it has for the past 10 years, according to analysis by NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).

Based on the president's own projections, emissions would increase 14 percent over the next ten years, which is precisely the rate at which they grew during the last ten years -- a fact obscured by the plan's foggy accounting tactics.

The president's non-binding goal is to reduce "emissions intensity" (carbon dioxide pollution relative to economic output) by 18 percent over the next 10 years. Yet from 1990 to 2000, emissions intensity fell 17.4 percent. That's because economic growth already tends to outpace carbon dioxide increases, and has for several decades. But it still allows unsafe emissions growth to proceed unabated.

"The president's plan uses Enron-style accounting tricks to hide growing environmental losses behind fuzzy pollution numbers," said David G. Hawkins, director of the NRDC Climate Center. "The benchmark for global warming policy is whether it cuts global warming pollution. This plan calls for more pollution growth, at the same dangerous pace as the past decade."

A White House fact sheet claims the Bush target is similar to the global warming targets of the rest of the world. In fact, the new plan would result in U.S. emissions 30 percent above 1990 levels in 2012. Meanwhile, the rest of the industrialized world has committed to reduce emissions to near 1990 levels under the global warming treaty abandoned by the White House last year.

Rollback of Power Plant Pollution Rules
The president also announced new targets for three pollutants from U.S. power plants that would delay by up to 10 years life-saving emission cuts now required under the Clean Air Act. The Bush plan allows three times more toxic mercury emissions than current law would allow, and postpones forthcoming mercury limits by a decade. It would allow 50 percent more sulfur emissions -- which cause acid rain and premature death from respiratory disease -- than current law and push back clean-up standards from 2012 to 2018. It would also allow hundreds of thousands tons of additional smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution, and delay their clean-up for a decade beyond current requirements.

"Delaying cleanup of these plants will cause more asthma attacks and more cardio pulmonary disease for thousands of Americans. And we will see thousands more premature deaths," John Walke, director of NRDC's Clean Air program said.

Cost Effective Solutions At Hand
Global warming and power plant pollution problems can be solved safely and effectively, with cleaner more efficient energy technologies -- using both conventional fuels and renewable sources like wind and solar power. Legislation to clean up power plants and raise fuel economy standards, both opposed by the administration would stop U.S. global warming emissions growth completely within 10 years.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering the Clean Power Act, introduced by Senator Jeffords (D-VT), which would limit all four major pollutants from power plants (carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur and nitrogen) further and faster than the Bush plan, saving thousands of lives and countless hospital visits. Now before the Environment committee, the bill has bipartisan support of 19 co-sponsors.

Truth in Accounting
The administration plan calls for a voluntary emissions intensity target of 151 metric tons per million dollars of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2012, compared with 183 metric tons today -- a 17.5 percent gain. White House press materials round up to 18 percent. Using the administration's own economic growth forecasts, that translates into a 14 percent increase in global warming pollution over the next 10 years. Both the intensity and the absolute pollution increase will be the same over the next decade as they have been for the last 10 years.

The Global Warming Threat
The National Academy of Sciences last year warned that global warming could trigger "large, abrupt and unwelcome" changes in our climate. The 2,500-member Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says average earth temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees over the next century, the fastest rate in 10,000 years. Announcing that 2001 was the second hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organization recently confirmed that "temperatures are getting hotter, and they are getting hotter faster now than at any time in the past."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
Reported "Reductions," Rising Emissions
The Clean Power Act: A Comprehensive Solution to Power-Plant Pollution