The Facts on Emissions, or a Lot of Hot Air?

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, September 3, 2007

President Bush made an arresting claim about global warming when he appeared at a fundraiser last Monday, but it may not have been correct.

"Do you realize that the United States is the only major industrialized nation that cut greenhouse gases last year?" Bush said in Bellevue, Wash.

Kristen A. Hellmer, the spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged afterward that the White House was unable to substantiate the claim.

"While it's very likely to be the case that we are the only industrialized nation that cut absolute emissions, there is not directly comparable data because not all other nations take such a measurement," she said by e-mail. "We are making sure the president is aware of that."

The Department of Energy estimated in May that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined 78 million metric tons, or 1.3 percent, between 2005 and 2006. That represents the first drop in emissions since 2001, when a slowdown in the economy and the Sept. 11 attacks affected the numbers.

How much the Bush administration influenced this is another question. The Energy Information Administration offered two major explanations for the decline: The first, a cooler summer and a warmer winter, had nothing to do with Bush. The other explanation was that cleaner power sources such as natural gas and non-fossil fuels are coming online in the electrical industry -- another area where Bush's pull seems at best minimal.

The administration insists it is making a contribution. "Progress is due in part to natural causes, innovation and market forces, and emerging federal, state and local policies," Hellmer said.

Environmentalists are decidedly less impressed, pointing out that carbon dioxide emissions are up during the whole of the Bush presidency. "It's the equivalent of someone saying that he lost three pounds after gaining 25 pounds," said Daniel J. Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress.

Utility Player Steps Up at OMB

Much media attention has been paid to Paul Clement, the solicitor general, who will step in as acting attorney general after Alberto R. Gonzales leaves Sept. 17. Practically unnoticed is the fact that another important agency, the White House Office of Management and Budget, has also been under temporary leadership. Rob Portman departed Aug. 3, but the Senate did not approve his intended successor, former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle (R), before going on vacation.

The acting director is Stephen S. McMillin, 41. The onetime aide to then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) has filled a succession of staff jobs in the Bush administration, including his current full-time post as deputy director of the OMB. A graduate of the University of Texas, McMillin got his break in Washington politics years ago after he introduced himself to then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and wrangled himself an internship.

McMillin is well regarded inside the White House as an adept utility player who is not afraid to speak bluntly to his bosses -- although he does not carry the stature of Portman, a onetime representative who could cut deals with his former colleagues.

For that reason, the timing of the interregnum at the OMB seems particularly inauspicious for the White House, as it gears up for what promises to be a bruising fight with congressional Democrats this fall over spending bills. In a brief interview Friday, McMillin said now is as good a time as any to change horses, since the administration's positions on the big budget issues this year are already developed.

"The table has been set," he said. "Now Jim has to come in and try to figure out how all this stuff gets worked out."

McMillin said much of his focus has been on making sure top positions are filled and trying to lay the groundwork so Nussle's on-the-job training will be quick after he is confirmed, probably sometime this week.

He acknowledged it could be a bloody fall on the budget.

"The likelihood is there is more conflict, there is more argument and disagreement, before we get to resolution," he said. "At some point, everybody recognizes some bill has to be signed to keep the basic functions of government operating."

Iraq Keeps Hadley at Home

When Bush leaves for Australia today for a high-level summit with leaders of Asian and other Pacific Rim countries, he will be going without a number of the senior advisers who usually accompany him on big foreign trips. Particularly noteworthy will be the absence of his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, who almost always attends such summits; standing in for him will be his new deputy, Jim Jeffrey.

The reason for the shift is almost self-evident: Next week the big Iraq assessment and recommendations from the White House are due, and Hadley and others will be preparing the administration's plan. "It's the best use of his time to remain back here," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

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