Bush Changes Pledge on Emissions


By Seth Borenstein

Philadelphia Inquirer
March 14, 2001

Reversing a campaign pledge he made in September, President Bush announced yesterday that he would not regulate power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, which scientists say contributes to global warming. Bush's change in position contradicted the public stance taken recently by Environmental Protection Agency head Christie Whitman.

Vice President Cheney, who is directing energy-policy oversight for the new administration, told Republican senators yesterday that promising to regulate carbon dioxide "was a mistake." The administration must back away from Bush's promise because of a national energy crisis and high electricity prices, Cheney said. The burning of fossil fuels - especially coal and oil - produces carbon dioxide, a key ingredient of global warming, the world's top scientists reiterated earlier this year in a UN report.

In a letter yesterday to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.), Bush said that regulating carbon dioxide would reduce the use of coal to generate electricity. Hagel and three other Republican senators - Larry Craig of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina - had written Bush to oppose the regulation plan. "We must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers," Bush's letter said. His policy change angered environmental groups and scientists who study global warming, but utility interests cheered.

"It only took President Bush 60 days to walk away from his most explicit environmental campaign promise," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust. During his campaign, Bush offered a "four pollutant" plan to regulate carbon dioxide and mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act, just as the law now regulates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which cause smog.

In Saginaw, Mich., on Sept. 29, Bush announced his energy policy and said: "We will require all power plants to meet clean-air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time."

His letter to Hagel said that sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury should be regulated. "I do not believe, however, that the government should impose on power plants mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide, which is not a 'pollutant' under the Clean Air Act," Bush wrote.

Whitman had put out the opposite message in public statements. In a recent interview, she promoted the four-pollutant plan as something that "would have enormous impact" on global warming. A spokeswoman for Whitman declined to comment yesterday on Bush's policy reversal, referring reporters to the White House.

Utility interests, including coal companies, had urged the administration to accept that the four-pollutant policy conflicted with sound energy policy. "This is finally a good piece of news," said Frank Maisano, spokesman for the Global Climate Coalition, a coalition of business groups including utilities that lobbies on global-warming policies. Paul Bailey, vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, an electric utility lobby, said: "We have shown that voluntary approaches work as a way of limiting carbon dioxide emissions."

Environmental groups contended that Bush was co-opted by energy interests. "He's turned his back on the weight of the consensus of the science of global warming, which shows that the problem is alarming and much more severe than thought before," said David Doniger, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the climate-policy director at the EPA during the Clinton administration. "He's demonstrated that he can be pushed around by the coal industry."

Energy and mining interests gave Bush $2.8 million and all Republicans $47 million in campaign contributions last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. That compares with $370,000 to former Vice President Al Gore and $15 million to Democrats.

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