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Ex-EPA Chiefs Agree on Greenhouse Gas Lid

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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Six former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, including five Republicans, said yesterday that the Bush administration should impose mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming.

The group, which came together in Washington for a roundtable discussion to celebrate the agency's 35th anniversary, said the White House is not moving fast enough to address the global threat that human-generated climate change poses.

"This is not a sort of short-term cycle problem. This is a major disaster for the world," said Russell E. Train, who served as EPA administrator under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford from 1973 to 1977. "To say we'll deal with it later and try to push it away is dishonest to the people, and self-destructive."

Lee M. Thomas, who headed the agency from 1985 to 1989 under Ronald Reagan, said U.S. businesses would welcome federal regulation at this point because it would allow them to plan for the kind of investments that will be needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change.

Companies want "certainty as to what is required down the road," Thomas said. "You've got to put an international scheme in place that says 'We're going to start action today' and periodically we're going to review these things and see if we need to tighten things or loosen them. You can't wait until you have certainty on these issues. Then it's way too late."

The only living former administrators who did not join in the panel were Mike Leavitt, who now heads the Department of Health and Human Services and could not attend because of a scheduling conflict, and Douglas M. Costle, who served under President Jimmy Carter. Costle could not attend for health reasons.

Carol M. Browner, the lone Democrat present, told reporters after the session that the panel's consensus on the need for regulation is "huge," calling it "a testament to the reality of the issue and a recognition that it's time to do something."

But the agency's current head, Stephen L. Johnson, said the administration remains committed to pursuing voluntary emission reductions and technological innovation rather than requiring mandatory cuts. Noting that automobiles account for a significant portion of carbon dioxide emissions, Johnson said: "Are we going to tell people to stop driving their cars, or do we start investing in technology [to cut emissions]? That's the answer, investing in those technologies."

Just yesterday, the EPA announced that four corporations -- Baxter International Inc., General Motors, IBM, and SC Johnson -- and the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory had met their voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goals through the government's Climate Leaders program. A total of 79 American firms, which generate roughly 8 percent of the nation's total output of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, have vowed to reduce their emissions by an amount equal to taking 5 million cars off the road each year.

Environmentalists said the fact that so many EPA administrators could agree on the importance of mandatory carbon limits shows the extent to which most policymakers want more sweeping action on climate change.

"I can't remember anything quite like it," said Jeremy Symons, who directs the global warming campaign for the advocacy group, the National Wildlife Federation. "It should be an unprecedented wake-up call for anyone concerned about our planet. The question is whether President Bush is going to listen, since he's ignored scientists in the past."

But the administrators' statements failed to move Myron Ebell, who heads the Competitive Enterprise Institute's global warming policy program.

"EPA administrators like to regulate things," said Ebell, whose think tank receives contributions from companies opposed to mandatory carbon limits. "That what EPA does. That's their only approach to anything."


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