Bush warms up to climate change
Amid signs that Nevada and the West are taking a warm beating, the White House tries to regain the initiative
George Bush’s new proposed global warming strategy has not exactly set the world on fire.
In April 16 Rose Garden remarks, Bush called for major polluters like the China and India to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and further called for abandonment of trade barriers on energy-related technology.
For the first seven years of his administration, Bush has been on the sidelines of efforts to curtail global warming. He initially rejected the idea that warming existed. Eventually he conceded that it does but still opposed mandatory greenhouse gas emission limits. In 2002, Bush set a goal for his administration of cutting gas emissions 18 percent by 2012—that is, emissions would continue to rise but at a slower rate.
As a result, state governments and private organizations took over leadership of the global warming issue. Last week, Bush sought to return the spotlight to the White House.
“In support of this process, and based on technology advances and strong new policy, it is now time for the U.S. to look beyond 2012,” he said. “We’ve shown that we can slow emissions growth. Today, I’m announcing a new national goal: to stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.”
But the Bush comments contained few major steps, possibly because of the reaction in the nation’s capital to a leak of Bush’s plans for the environment. On April 14, the Washington Times—a Unification Church publication regarded as allied with the administration—reported that Bush was considering seeking legislation from Congress to give the president authority over efforts to curb global warming.
It is not known exactly what kind of measure Bush wanted, but the Times reported, “Bush administration officials have told Republicans in Congress that they feel pressure to act now because they fear a coming regulatory nightmare. It would be the first time Mr. Bush has called for statutory authority on the subject. … Republican members of Congress who were briefed last week let top administration officials know that they think the White House is making a mistake. … Opponents said Mr. Bush could be setting off runaway legislation, particularly with Democrats in control of Congress.”
Asked at a White House briefing what Bush had in mind, press secretary Dana Perino responded, “[H]ere in this country we are dealing with what we call a regulatory train wreck. We have several different laws … to address climate change, heading down a path that we believe is not reasonable nor sustainable, would hurt our economy. … This would have the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act all addressing climate change in a way that is not the way that they were intended to. At the same time on Capitol Hill … Sen. [Harry] Reid, I believe, has called for the first week of June to be the one where they bring up these bills for debate in the Senate.”
Whatever Bush was planning, it seems to have been dropped. The strategy he announced did not include requests for statutory authority.
Republicans were not the only ones who were suspicious. Dan Geary, Nevada spokesperson for the National Environmental Trust, now called the Pew Environmental Trust, said in a statement: “The administration has lost every battle to have the courts say that the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court has not only ruled that the EPA has the authority but directed them to begin doing so. So the White House, seeing its options dry up (much like the climate itself) and seeing a potential new president who would aggressively use the EPA’s already-in-place authority to take action on global warming … they’re getting an eleventh hour bill together, it looks like.”
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “Very early on, this President broke his promise to the American people to tackle global warming. At the behest of the big fossil energy companies, this administration has spent the last seven years undermining climate science and the search for solutions. So there is no credible reason now to believe they will suddenly make or support any proposal that is really commensurate with the world’s most pressing environmental problem. But I am hopeful we can work together on the development of clean, renewable and low-carbon energy resources like wind, solar and geothermal. I am working to make sure that Nevada is at the forefront of the clean energy revolution the country and the world so desperately needs.”
In Paris, where a summit on climate change was meeting last week, nations like South Africa and France faulted the new Bush policy, saying it was too little and too late.
As it happened, state governors and governors’ representatives were meeting at Yale on global warming when Bush made his April statement.
Representatives of 18 states signed a “Declaration on Climate Change,” and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger noted that Bush is about to leave office and be replaced by one of three candidates, all of whom support stronger action on global warming. “I think the deadlock is about to be broken,” Schwarzenegger said.
The states signing the declaration did not include Nevada. They were Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.
By contrast, a 2006 “U.S. Mayor’s Climate Change Agreement” has been signed by several Nevada cities, including Reno, Sparks, Las Vegas and Henderson.
Meanwhile, one indice of the long-range stakes came from United States Geological Survey scientists.
They said the Colorado River could dwindle in this century to its lowest level in half a millennium because of global warming.
Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California depend on water from the Colorado. In addition, Arizona, Nevada and cities in several states depend on hydroelectric power generated by Hoover Dam, built astride the Colorado.
Just as sobering, the National Resources Defense Council last week released a report, “Hotter and Drier: The West’s Changed Climate,” that examined 50 scientific studies and concluded that the U.S. West is heating more rapidly than the rest of the nation and more than the world as a whole. It linked the Western warming to increases in recent years in wildfires in Nevada. The report said that temperatures in Nevada rose an average of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit in the last five years compared to average 20th temperatures for the state and that the “Colorado River Basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico and includes parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, is the epicenter of the hotter and drier climate changes underway in the West. … The summer of 2007 was so hot and dry in Nevada that volunteers organized to bring water to remote watering stations to help the state’s signature animal, the desert bighorn sheep, survive.”
Further, “wildfires in northern Nevada in 2006 disrupted so much pronghorn antelope winter range that wildlife officials conducted an emergency antelope hunt and relocation effort for more than half of the regional herd,” the report said.