By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
President Bush yesterday called for a national goal of halting the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, mostly by curbing power plant pollution. But his voluntary target fell well short of what most leading scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and was widely criticized by Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists.
Bush's proposal -- which would rely on technological innovation for success -- was the administration's most definite public statement yet on global warming. Coming at a time when lawmakers and climate negotiators are focused on fashioning a binding climate accord under the next administration, however, it remained uncertain how much the president's initiative could influence the shape of legislation and impending treaty talks in the months to come.
Scientists of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded last year that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin to drop by 2015 in order to avert drastic climate change, a timetable that would compel developed nations to turn that corner even earlier, given the rapidly rising emission rates of developing nations such as China and India. Some experts, moreover, now say recent research indicates the IPCC timeline is inadequate.
Speaking one day before the administration's climate negotiators meet in Paris with representatives of other major carbon-emitting nations, Bush said in a Rose Garden speech that "there is a wrong way and a right way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions" and that he remains opposed to any mandatory emissions caps.
"The wrong way is to raise taxes, duplicate mandates or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of hurting our economy," he said. "The right way is to set realistic goals for reducing emissions consistent with advances in technology, while increasing our energy security and ensuring our economy can continue to prosper and grow."
Several Democratic lawmakers mocked Bush's announcement, saying they expect the next president to sign a climate bill into law. The Senate is planning to vote on legislation in June that seeks to halt the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in 2012, 13 years before Bush's deadline, and all three presidential candidates are expected to back that timetable.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, "The president's plan to have America stand by while greenhouse gases reach dangerous levels and threaten America and the world is worse than doing nothing -- it is the height of irresponsibility."
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House select panel on global warming, said the speech "further complicates the ability for Congress to produce legislation" because "the real headline for today's announcement should be, 'Bush pledges to do nothing before January 20, 2009, the day he leaves office.' "
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, said in an interview that he hoped Bush's speech would send "a strong signal" to House Republicans that they should forge a bipartisan deal on capping carbon emissions. "Candidly, it is not as strong a signal as I would have preferred, though it is a signal nonetheless," Boucher said.
However, senior GOP lawmakers, including Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), the ranking members on Boxer's and Markey's committees, both continue to reject mandatory curbs on emissions.
A few industry and environmental representatives welcomed Bush's announcement. Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said, "The positive is the president recognizes the need for federal action," even if his prescription was not bold enough. R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it showed that the president was working to stave off more draconian climate regulations that could be forced on the government by court decisions. " 'No' is not a sustainable answer," Josten said.
International climate negotiators, for their part, are increasingly focused on reaching out to the three presidential candidates -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- in order to move toward a global climate pact by the end of 2009, when U.N. negotiators are due to meet in Copenhagen.
In an interview last week, Yvo de Boer, the lead U.N. climate negotiator, said he had queried Senate aides about the candidates' positions this month during recent U.N. climate talks in Bangkok.
"They're all committed to action on climate change," de Boer said of the candidates, adding that reaching agreement with the next president is urgent. "You can't do that early enough, because these are the people who are crucial to doing a deal in Copenhagen," de Boer said.
David B. Sandalow, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said events have overtaken Bush even as he seeks to make his mark on climate policy.
"Most of the world -- including Senator John McCain -- has moved beyond him on this issue," Sandalow said. "The most important decisions in the international global warming negotiations will be made once President Bush leaves office. President Bush's climate change policies will have little or no influence on his successor, whose leadership will shape the world's response to global warming for years to come."
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.