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Associated Press

BANFF, Alberta (AP) - European environment ministers slammed U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and its policies on greenhouse gas emissions Sunday, calling them political maneuvers to preserve the energy-burning American lifestyle that have nothing to do with economics.

The comments on the final day of weekend talks by environment ministers of the world's industrial powers overshadowed their discussions on how to integrate environmental issues in new global policies for sustainable development.

Host Canada had tried to prevent the Kyoto Protocol dispute from dominating the G-8 environment ministers meeting involving the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, along with the European Union and U.N. Environment Program.

The formal agenda made no mention of the Kyoto agreement that requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but it came up in every discussion.

European ministers expressed their dissatisfaction with the U.S. stance on the issue, calling climate change an international problem that required an international agreement with full participation by such a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

"The basic problem is that the United States has chosen to stand outside the (Kyoto) protocol," said Margot Wallstrom, the European Commission environment commissioner. "It makes the protocol weaker, that's for sure."

Germany's Jurgen Trittin said he had trouble understanding U.S. arguments that Kyoto restrictions would harm the American economy, saying Germany had reduced greenhouse gas emissions without significant problems.

He also noted the Kyoto Protocol requires reductions in emissions, and said the Bush administration's incentive-driven program intended to induce voluntary reductions was politically motivated to prevent substantial changes in U.S. consumption.

Cheap energy in the past created a U.S. lifestyle that consumes more energy than other countries, and forcing too much change too quickly would be politically dangerous, Trittin said.

Christine Todd-Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, acknowledged the deep differences about U.S. policy but said the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol "is not changing."

She said the United States wants to reduce the intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent over the next 15 years, a period in which the U.S. economy is expected to double in size. Todd-Whitman said Washington wants to work with other countries on how to achieve a similar result - stronger economies with less pollution.

"What we're trying to do is show the way to decouple that economic growth from a similar growth, commensurate growth in greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

Canada, which once fully supported ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, now is wavering due to energy industry concerns that Canadian companies would face a disadvantage against U.S. competitors.

The European ministers all urged Canada to ratify the protocol this year and said they expected that to happen. Canadian minister David Anderson, who supports ratification, said the political decision of how to proceed requires technical information being gathered now on the effects of Kyoto.

To take effect, the accord must be ratified by 55 countries, including industrialized countries representing at least 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. With America out, just about every other industrialized country must ratify.

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