Democrat victory encourages US greens on climate change
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Democratic victory in US elections this week has given a boost to environmentalists long frustrated by the Republican administration's rejection of climate change worries and the need for energy conservation, analysts said.
But they did not anticipate an immediate overturn of President George W. Bush's administration's resistance to policies addressing global warming.
"I don't see a change in the short run on the position taken by the administration ... because the president sets the agenda," Dallas Burtraw, an economist at the research institute Resources for the Future, told AFP.
Burtraw said that the Democrats, who wrested control of both houses of Congress from Bush's Republicans in Tuesday's election, still face the possibility that Bush could veto any challenge to his stance.
"I would expect to see some negotiations in 2007 between Congress and the administration. I would expect to see some (climate-related) legislation submitted and to get much further that it has gone previously," Burtraw said.
But he added that there are also a few Democrats who could side with Republicans in resisting legislation on climate change.
Sierra Club spokesman David Willett said the Democrats are first likely to take on any Bush policy that causes damage to the environment.
"The first thing they will try to do is stop the dismantling of environmental protections in Congress of the last years. There have been repeated attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act in Congress to promote Bush's 'clear sky' proposal, and also attempts to open more public land for oil drilling," Willett noted.
US environmentalists have been angered by Bush's refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto agreement on climate change, which set target limits on countries' production of damaging greenhouse gases.
Bush has maintained that bowing to the Kyoto limits, which came into effect in February 2005, would be disastrous for the US economy, causing the loss of millions of jobs to countries like China which are not constrained by the Kyoto agreement.
Prior to Tuesday's election, Bush was backed in his rejection of Kyoto limits by the Republican-dominated Senate.
It was not clear though whether the new Democrat-led Senate, with only a bare 51 to 49 majority, would overturn Bush's position.
"Probably the more important signal for the international community maybe is what happened to the governor races," Burtraw said.
He noted that voters strongly re-elected California governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who despite his Republican credentials has also taken a strong stand on fighting global warming.
The victories of pro-environment governors in several other states could improve the chance for regional initiatives on controlling carbon dioxide emissions.
That means that there will be 10 states in the northeast that will participate in the initiative that will start in 2009.
According to Brookings Institute environmental policy expert William Antholis, the Democratic Congress is not likely to take a specific strong anti-climate change stance.
"I do think the Democrats will put forward legislation on energy. But specifically targetting climate change, they won't do it because there is little benefit for them doing that," Antholis said.
He said new initiatives promoting diversification of US energy sources, including non-polluting alternative energies, could emerge.
"If there is any movement it will be on the energy side, to reduce the oil dependency," he said.
The Democrats "will focus on America being a good actor on global energy as opposed to being a leader on further trade liberalization," he said.