Across the pond

President George W. Bush carried a message to European allies last week on the contentious climate change issue: Patience.

President George W. Bush carried a message to European allies last week on the contentious climate change issue: Patience.

"The policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge. While scientific uncertainties remain, we can begin now to address the factors that contribute to climate change," the president said June 11 on the eve of a 6-day trip to Europe.

The president's critics said his remarks proved the White House was kowtowing to industry naysayers that want to stall any meaningful discussion. Bush advisors say that's an unfair assessment.

A cabinet-level working group met regularly for 10 weeks to review the recent science behind global warming. The group also asked the National Academy of Sciences to specify the areas of uncertainty on climate change. NPC reported last week that it could not be determined how much use of fossil fuels and other human activity were to blame (OGJ Online, June 7, 2001).

Shades of gray

Well before the cabinet discussions, the White House said it did not support the Kyoto treaty. But the president's top advisors are still clearly divided on how to proceed. Some senior White House officials, including Treasury Sec. Paul O'Neill, Sec. of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman want a mandatory emissions-trading program.

One widely circulated plan included a cap-and-trade carbon dioxide emissions system that would have the US and other developed nations cap CO2 emissions by 2012 and by 2025 eliminate most man-made CO2 emissions through carbon sequestration and new technology. Developing nations would cap CO2 by 2035 and seek to end most emissions by 2050.

Other White House advisors, including Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney, Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, and Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham, oppose mandatory controls. Debate between the two factions will no doubt continue, but what is clear is that there will be no status quo, government sources say. More specifics could be forthcoming at new international climate talks in Bonn this July.

Common ground

Meanwhile, the president is moving forward in those areas where common ground exists. He called on federal agencies to set priorities for additional investments in climate change research, saying he is establishing the US Climate Change Research Initiative. He also proposed a joint venture with the European Union, Japan, and other nations to develop advanced climate modeling to better understand the causes and impacts of climate change.

Those two ideas likely do not need Congress's blessing. But Capitol Hill may also play some role in moving the climate change issue forward. A longstanding proposal by Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) would establish a presidential commission on climate change that would aim to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions as part of an overall energy policy. Easing gasoline prices may mean that lawmaker interest in sweeping energy legislation may be waning. But targeted legislation that moves the US toward a more proactive stance in the global warming debate could be a political win for the White House and Congress.

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