The Kyoto Pact Is a Lot of Smoke

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

It Will Weaken Our Economy But Not Reduce Pollution

This spring we got an unpleasant reminder of how easily air pollution crosses international boundaries. Forest fires in Mexico and Central America sent clouds of smoke northward, darkening skies all over the midwestern United States and Canada. In some cities, residents were warned not to go outdoors because of health risks from smoke inhalation.

Forest fire smoke is not as dangerous as the air pollution being created by Mexican factories near the U.S.-Mexican border. For years, we've been warning that these factories are polluting the U.S. as well as Mexico. If the federal government goes through with its plans to abide by the Kyoto protocols, we should see more pollution from Mexico, South America, and third-world countries as far away as China.

The Kyoto protocols are intended to reduce worldwide air pollution, but there is good reason to believe they will have the opposite effect. This pact requires developed countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, to reduce carbon emissions to their 1990 levels by the year 2000. Developing nations will still be free to emit as much carbon as they need to in order to industrialize.

You don't need to be a college-educated economist to figure out that many companies, faced with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to refit their factories, will instead move them to third-world countries, where they can take advantage of lower wages as well as less restrictive air standards.

The U.S. can help clean the air if we maintain our economic strength. We cannot clean the air by moving our jobs overseas.

A study conducted by the Argonne National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy made these predictions of what will happen under Kyoto:

  • 20 to 30 percent of the chemical industry will move to developing countries within 15 or 20 years
  • All primary aluminum smelters will close by 2010
  • A 30 percent decline in the number of steel producers at a cost of 100,000 jobs
  • Domestic paper production will be displaced by imports
  • A 20 percent reduction in the output of petroleum refiners
  • 23 to 35 percent of the U.S. cement industry would disappear, destroying the economies of many small towns.

As you can see, these are serious economic consequences that will put a lot of Boilermaker members out of work. Yet they won't bring us cleaner air. We'll simply be exporting jobs and importing pollution.

The U.S. has the strongest economy in the world. We are also the world's largest producer of pollution control equipment. If we want clean air - and I think all of us do - we need to take advantage of our economic strength to help U.S. companies install scrubbers and precipitators and other pollution control equipment necessary to reduce our emissions levels and keep those jobs in the U.S.

The U.S. can help clean the air if we maintain our economic strength. We cannot clean the air by moving our jobs overseas.

If our government wants us to reduce our carbon emissions levels, then they need to subsidize the installation of the equipment that will make that reduction possible.