Last September when George W. Bush and Al Gore were neck-and-neck in the polls, Bush declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, promised to regulate power plant emissions, and criticized Gore for advocating voluntary controls. On Tuesday, buckling under pressure from lobbyists, contributors, and conservative members of Congress, Bush reneged on his campaign promise. This comes as no surprise to residents of Texas, where as Governor, Bush was the #1 recipient of donations from the Texas Chemical Council, whose members released
187 million pounds of toxic waste into Texas land, water, and air in 1996 alone.
The Bush reversal followed threats by the Competitive Enterprise Institute to fight Bush if he carried out his promise. CEI opposes government regulation of business. Another business advocacy group, the Global Climate Coalition had posted a statement on its web site suggesting that the proposed regulations would harm the U.S. economy, "and all American families, workers, seniors and children." The campaign policy shift was contained in a letter to Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and three other Republican senators who had challenged his planned curbs.
The Bush letter attempted to use the California electrical crisis to justify the policy change. The connection was unclear, however, as the regulations would have affected coal burning power plants, primarily, and California relies chiefly on other sources such as natural gas, nuclear, and hydrolectric power. Power plants burning natural gas produce less carbon dioxide than coal burning plants.
The issue revealed a divided administration, with Vice President Cheney reportedly opposing the regulations, while Treasury Secretary O'Neill and EPA administrator Whitman advocating them. Former Governor Whitman had spoken of the CO2 regulations during the last several weeks as if they were policy. The policy reversal is seen by some observers as a major rebuke for Ms. Whitman, one of the few representatives of the liberal wing of the Republican party on the Bush cabinet.
News organizations cited the conflict between the administration policy reversal and the Bush campaign mantra that "a promise made is a promise kept." Bloomberg reported Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as saying, "Maybe we'll need to learn to read the president's lips more carefully." Senator Reid is the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Echoing the Bush letter, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that carbon dioxide should not have been included with pollutants in the campaign document. Although carbon dioxide is not listed as a pollutant in the Clean Air Act, a study, reported in the science journal Nature, documented evidence gathered from satellites in Earth-orbit that confirmed that carbon dioxide among other so-called "greenhouse gases" were building up in the Earth's atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are believed to be a major cause of global warming and climate disruption. The decision also runs counter to the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 U.N. agreement that seeks to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The United States signed the agreement, but the Senate has not ratified it and Bush opposes it.
Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman said that he would introduce legislation on Thursday that would limit power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide. "This is much more than a broken campaign promise and political double talk.In this case, turnabout is foul play, and could seriously hurt our efforts to reduce the enormously consequential risks of rising planetary temperatures," Lieberman said.
Environmental groups held a news conference Wednesday, and promised to mobilize their memberships in response to the Bush anti-environment decision. Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund said, "This response by the Bush administration will not only let down Americans, it will outrage the global community." John Stanton, vice president for air programs at the National Environmental Trust added "He ran a campaign about bringing dignity back to the White House, and here we have the president breaking one of his big promises he made on the environment" The decision echoed abroad, as well. Margot Wallstroem, environment commissioner of the European Union, said Bush's decision flew in the face of scientific evidence about the causes and potential solutions of global warming. "Nobody should ignore these warnings," she said.
Ferguson, Alexander. "Bush Slammed for Abandoning Pollution Pledge"Reuters 14 Mar. 2001.
Rosenkrantz, Holly. " Bush Shift on Coal Plant Pollution Followed Lobbying (Update 2)" Bloomberg 14 Mar. 2001.