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Pact Signed for Prototype of Coal Plant

by: ANDREW C. REVKIN    7 December 2005

MONTREAL, Dec. 6 - Under pressure from other industrialized countries at talks here on global warming, the Bush administration announced on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with a coalition of energy companies to build a prototype coal-burning power plant with no emissions.

The project, called FutureGen, has been in planning stages since 2003. But the Energy Department said here that a formal agreement had been signed under which companies would contribute $250 million of a cost estimated at $1 billion.

Environmental advocates at the talks criticized the announcement, saying it was intended to distract from continuing efforts by the American delegation to block discussion of new international commitments to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists link to global warming.

"You are watching 163 nations do an elaborate dance to try to make progress when the United States is sitting in the middle of the road trying to obstruct," said Alden Meyer, a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that has long criticized the Bush administration's climate approach.

"It's getting to be like Charlie Brown with Lucy holding that football," he said. "Every time, at the last minute, the U.S. pulls it away."

The talks here are just one chapter in an international effort to rein in heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases that began in Toronto in 1988 at a conference on the changing atmosphere. Ever since then, climate scientists, with widening consensus, have linked a global warming trend to increasing levels of those gases in the atmosphere.

The linkage led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, but that treaty had no binding limits on emissions. And while parties pledged to avoid "dangerous" human influence with the climate, they sidestepped defining "dangerous." The Kyoto Protocol, which took effect this year, is an addendum to that pact with binding targets but limited participation.

While more than 150 countries have ratified the protocol, only about three dozen industrialized ones are subject to the binding terms.

The world's biggest emitter, the United States, has not ratified it. And the fast-growing giants of the developing world, China and India, continue to insist that they will not accept cuts in emissions.

Also circulating at the talks were copies of a letter sent to President Bush on Monday by two dozen senators, including two Republicans, urging the administration to change its tactics.

"The United States should, at a minimum, refrain from blocking or obstructing such discussions amongst parties to the convention, since that would be inconsistent with its ongoing treaty obligations," said the letter, signed by Senators Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico; Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine; Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island; and 21 colleagues.

Administration officials here declined to respond directly, instead referring reporters to a statement made at the talks on Dec. 2 by Harlan L. Watson, the lead climate negotiator for the United States.

Mr. Watson said the United States opposed any new negotiations under the 1992 treaty. "We believe that it is best to address this complex issue through a range of programs and technology initiatives," he said.