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Climate Treaty Proposal Examined Environmental Leaders Fiercely Criticize A ‘Hybrid’ Proposal

The Clinton administration is taking a close look at a proposal that would limit heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases but still provide industry assurances that costs will not skyrocket, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

The administration has been caught in a crossfire between business groups fearing that President Clinton’s global warming policy will be too costly and harm U.S. businesses and environmentalists who are urging binding pollution limits to address the problem.

In recent weeks, however, a proposal aimed at finding a middle ground has gained increasing prominence as the administration crafts its proposal for climate treaty negotiations in December in Japan.

Officials privately acknowledged Thursday that a so-called hybrid approach to dealing with global warming is under discussion, although no one would discuss it on the record. It is said to have particular attraction among the president’s economic advisers, but also has been welcomed at the State Department.

“We’ve been looking at a lot of ideas and we haven’t ruled anything in or out,” said Todd Stern, the point man at the White House for global warming issues. He declined to discuss the matter further.

But as word of the latest twist in the administration’s internal global warming debate began to surface, environmental leaders sent a scathing letter to Clinton late Wednesday criticizing the “hybrid” proposal.

“Such a mechanism would undermine the credibility of the entire (global warming) treaty process,” said the letter signed by the heads of 17 major environmental organizations. They say an “escape clause” from emission limits “would allow nations to abandon the emissions reduction commitments made in Kyoto” in Japan.

The compromise, which is expected to be discussed at a Cabinet meeting Friday, is fashioned after a proposal developed by a group of economists at Resources for the Future, a Washington think tank that specializes in environmental issues.

It would work this way: Nations meeting at the Kyoto conference would agree to binding limits on carbon emissions for industrial countries by a certain year. But there would be an “escape” trigger. If costs of meeting the limit reach a certain level, the country would be able to exceed the ceiling. It all would be part of an emissions trading program in which the government would issue pollution permits.

At a White House climate conference on Monday, Vice President Al Gore was asked about such an approach and showed some interest. Gore and others within the administration, however, would want the cost trigger to be high enough to ensure there actually will be pollution cuts.

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