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Decisions on Global Warming and Ozone Show 2 Sides of Bush : Environment: The two issues have proved serious tests of his pledge to be the 'environmental President.'

July 11, 1990|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — The United States' role here in blocking efforts to have the seven-nation economic summit agree on a plan to combat global warming caps a month of decisions that have tested President Bush's vow to be the "environmental President."

Environmental activists who had gathered here to prod world leaders into strong action had hoped to see them commit themselves to specific reductions in the industrialized world's production of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases.

Instead, Bush's unyielding opposition to that idea forced West Germany, the chief advocate of that approach, to back down. The only major new environmental initiative in the communique that the seven will issue today will direct the World Bank to begin a one-year study on ways to preserve Brazil's Amazon rain forest, Administration officials said.

Under the Amazon forest proposal, which West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has now embraced, the World Bank and Brazilian officials will develop a specific plan to be presented to the seven leaders for ratification when they meet again at next year's summit, to be held in Britain.

Environmentalists were quick to denounce Bush's role, saying the Administration had forced the summit to trade off strong measures against global warming in favor of a weak plan to aid Brazil.

Two weeks ago, in another international meeting, the Administration played a very different role, offering a key plan to help Third World nations phase out the use of chemicals that harm the ozone layer. In past international meetings, European leaders had accused the United States of dragging its feet on establishing such a fund.

Bush's decision to change the U.S. position cleared the way for completion of a new treaty to halt the deterioration of the ozone layer. Ozone high in the atmosphere screens out much of the sun's ultraviolet rays, thus providing crucial protection against radiation that can cause cancers in humans and other animals.

The contrast between the two meetings--Bush pleasing environmentalists on ozone, outraging them on global warming--highlights the tension that has been the hallmark of environmental issues throughout the Bush presidency.

The tension is often explained as a dispute between Bush's strong-willed chief of staff, John H. Sununu, who is deeply suspicious of environmentalists, and his Environmental Protection Agency chief, William K. Reilly.

That explanation, however, is an inaccurate characterization, Administration officials say. Although Reilly has advocated a stronger environmental policy, he has neither the clout nor the access to Bush to challenge Sununu, the officials say. In fact, Reilly has been conspicuous by his absence from the economic summit, virtually the only senior Administration official with an interest in the summit issues whom Bush left in Washington.

Instead, the disputes within the Administration reflect Bush's own ambivalence about the issues. Throughout his Administration, he has been pulled in opposite directions on the environment, tugged between his desire to placate environmentally-conscious voters on the one side and his instinct to protect business people from government regulation on the other.

On ozone protection, aides say, a key factor influencing Bush's decision was the position of U.S. chemical firms, such as DuPont, which stand to make substantial profits by producing new products to replace those that are now being banned because of their role in damaging the ozone layer. Chemical company executives had urged Bush to support an international aid fund which, in effect, will give nations such as India money to buy the new U.S. products.

A second key factor, Administration aides said, was the intervention of Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who warned Bush that Sununu's resistance to a Third World aid fund was complicating U.S. relations with European allies.

On global warming, neither of those factors was present. Bush's top aides are unanimous in believing that the scientific evidence is shaky on all aspects of global warming--the problem's dimensions, its potential effects and its causes. Moreover, they argue, the sorts of measures that Kohl and other European leaders have pushed--steps to reduce the use of oil, coal and other carbon-based fuels--would put U.S. industry at a disadvantage in world markets.

Given that advice, Administration officials said, Bush made a firm decision before coming here that he would resist any attempt to commit the summit to specific greenhouse-gas reductions.

"There was never any chance that would happen," said one senior Administration official. "It was just never in the cards."

Moreover, a second official said, the fact that Bush had taken a step on ozone that environmentalists favored made it easier for the Administration to go against the environmental activists on the global warming issue.

"It took some of the pressure off," the official said.

Bush performed a similar balancing act recently on two domestic environmental issues--his decisions to limit offshore oil drilling but to defer specific plans to protect the northern spotted owl, a species that the government has declared to be threatened.

On both of those decisions, aides say, political factors were vital. Offshore drilling is widely unpopular in California, and Republican officials in the state told Bush that allowing drilling to continue could hurt GOP candidates, particularly Pete Wilson, the nominee for governor.

By contrast, Republicans in Oregon are waging a strong campaign against federal efforts to protect the spotted owl, arguing that proposed steps would severely damage the state's timber industry.

In both cases, Bush chose the decision that local GOP leaders favored.

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