A Sorry Record

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"WE HAVE done a lot to deal with greenhouse gases by advancing new technologies," President Bush gushed to Larry King on CNN on Thursday. During the 2000 campaign, the president said, he promised to invest in clean coal technology; the administration is doing that, he said, and "one of these days people are going to look back and say, well, thank goodness the Bush administration made these investments because we'll be able to have electricity from coal that won't pollute." What's more, he congratulated himself, the administration has "spent over a billion dollars for research in the hopes that we'll be able to power our automobiles by hydrogen, which would be an amazing advance in . . . cleaning the environment. We've done more on ethanol [than] any administration." Concluded Mr. Bush: "We've got a great record."

Well, no, actually. The administration has not taken the steps necessary to limit greenhouse gas emissions, barring some miraculous technological breakthrough. Aside from modestly raising fuel economy standards, it has not created a regulatory climate favorable to carbon reductions either in vehicles or in power plants. It has resisted mandatory limits on carbon emissions and the sort of ambitious fuel economy standards that would force automakers to innovate and help make smaller cars more attractive. It has resisted taxing carbon use, preferring instead to provide incentives for oil and gas extraction -- just the opposite of what's needed.

Investing in new technologies, about which Mr. Bush boasted, is worthy. But such investment is more likely to pay off if government creates incentives and then lets the market choose the most promising technologies; Mr. Bush apparently believes government can guess better. Meanwhile, the longer this country goes without action, the more difficult will be the reductions necessary to help prevent an environmental catastrophe.

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