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In Bush's Final Year, The Agenda Gets Greener

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)

Merkel flew last month to Texas, where Bush hosted her for dinner at his Crawford ranch and told her he had no plans to change his policies, according to people briefed on the talk. She left disappointed.

'Ready for the Next Step'

As this month's U.N. meeting in Bali was approaching, a fierce debate broke out over who would lead the U.S. delegation. The White House wanted Connaughton, Bush's environmental adviser, to co-head it, but the State Department took umbrage at what it deemed a breach of protocol.

After a late night at Camp David planning the Middle East conference in Annapolis, sources said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Bolten at the White House. Bolten left the decision to a deputy national security adviser. The dispute dragged on for days until the White House agreed that Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky would lead the delegation while Connaughton would "join in leading" some sessions.

The spat over place cards underscored a broader tension over what to do next. Connaughton wanted to go to Bali and emphasize the U.S.-led process as the route to a post-Kyoto agreement, in effect snubbing the United Nations, the sources said. Dobriansky "thinks this is frankly nuts," said an associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She insisted that the U.S. process had to be cast as part of the U.N. negotiations, not as separate.

Dobriansky wanted to use Bali to signal willingness to go beyond voluntary measures. "It just got shot down vociferously," the associate said shortly afterward. "She's very frustrated, very angry." In the end, though, Dobriansky was allowed to tell Bali delegates that all options are on the table, presumably including mandatory limits.

Once in Bali, the U.S. delegation fought efforts to name explicit emissions targets, calling such a move premature at the start of a two-year negotiation. That triggered an angry torrent of grievances, and Dobriansky was booed and hissed. Eventually, the delegates agreed to call on both developed and developing nations to make measurable but unspecified cuts in greenhouse gases.

With just a year left for Bush, the issue is heading down parallel domestic and international tracks. Bush will reconvene officials from major polluting nations in Hawaii next month, and the Senate is to take up a global warming bill in the spring. Some lawmakers said they have picked up hints from Bush aides that he might sign a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill with a reasonable timetable and economic safeguards.

"The private conversations have been very encouraging," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.). "We believe if we produce a bill that reflects our criteria, I personally think the president would sign it."

Connaughton had no comment on that but said in an interview that a new phase is beginning: "You ask, why now? Well, the convergence has finally happened, both internally and externally. Everybody's ready for the next step."

The question is what it will be.


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