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In Bush's Final Year, The Agenda Gets Greener

'Put a Foot Forward'

As Democratic leaders look on, President Bush speaks before signing the energy bill last week. The legislation includes measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As Democratic leaders look on, President Bush speaks before signing the energy bill last week. The legislation includes measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)

By the end of last year, Bush was pushed to shift more publicly by a confluence of factors: the election of a Democratic Congress, the beginning of U.N. discussion about what to do after Kyoto expires in 2012 and pressure from Bush allies such as Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Tony Blair.

Business figures, led by former Exxon Mobil executive Arthur G. "Randy" Randol III, launched what lobbyist Michael McKenna called a "soft lobbying campaign" to prod the White House to address climate change, if for no other reason than a plan from Bush would be less onerous on industry than one written by the Europeans or by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We couldn't fight something with nothing," said the former Bush adviser. "We had to have something."

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley began thinking ahead to the next Group of Eight (G-8) meeting, to be hosted by Merkel in Heiligendamm in summer 2007 and sure to be another pressure session on global warming. "He hated this every year," a senior official said of Hadley. Bush was never "in the driver's seat because we were always responding."

Bush was eager to change the G-8 dynamics. "Going into that," the former adviser said, "he wanted a strategy not just for that meeting but 'How is this going to play out for the rest of my term? I want to put some initiatives out. I want to put a foot forward.' "

White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and other aides arranged a series of climate-change briefings for Bush last winter, bringing in government experts to talk about the state of the science, what had changed and why. "The science has firmed up in his mind quite a bit, just as it has for a lot of people," the former adviser said.

The administration even developed models for mandatory limits on carbon emissions for discussion purposes. "We gamed out what a hard cap-and-trade system would look like," the former adviser said. "Is there a way to do cap-and-trade that is economically responsible? Probably so." But the models studied by Bush did not amount to a formal proposal. "It never got to that point," the adviser said.

Instead, the White House came up with a plan that Bush outlined in his State of the Union address: to reduce gasoline consumption through increased use of alternative fuels and fuel efficiency for passenger vehicles, ideas eventually incorporated into the energy bill Bush signed last week. Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett pushed to make sure the speech included an unambiguous recognition of climate change, the first ever in a State of the Union. Addressing the nation, Bush said his plan "will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

'Totally Misjudged the Situation'

The next morning, Bush visited a DuPont research center in Delaware, bringing along Carper, who used the flight back to press again. "There's a parade that's forming here to address climate change," he recalled telling Bush. "You have the opportunity to watch the parade or lead the parade, and with all due respect, Mr. President, you need to lead the parade."

Among those in the parade was DuPont, the chemical giant. The company had joined eight other major corporations, including Alcoa, BP America, General Electric and PG&E, and four nonprofit groups, including the Pew Center, to form a coalition called the United States Climate Action Partnership. The day before the State of the Union, the group called on Bush to support a cap-and-trade system.

The parade kept growing. Soon it would include some in black robes on the Supreme Court, which ruled in April that the Bush administration was wrong to say that greenhouse gases could not be regulated under the Clean Air Act. And it would include high school classmates of Hadley's daughter; they grilled him during a speech this spring. "Hadley came back and remarked on how young people are engaged on it," Feaver recalled. The encounter reaffirmed Hadley's belief that "we have a positive story to tell. We don't have to merely play defense."

With Hadley's encouragement, Bush gave a speech in May declaring that he would lead an effort to find a post-Kyoto framework, one that would include China, India and other developing nations exempted from the protocol. Environmentalists suspected an effort to undercut U.N.-sponsored talks, but Bush at least had something to tell Merkel at the G-8 in Heiligendamm. She came away buoyed.

But her hopes would soon be dashed. In September, Bush hosted a meeting of the world's largest economies to discuss the way forward. He offered no major new policies, instead advocating that each nation set its own goal that would not be internationally binding. "At the end of that meeting, it was the administration that was isolated," said Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "They totally misjudged the situation. They thought the developing countries that were there would support their point of view. They didn't."


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