WASHINGTON — A week before President Bush broke his campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman warned him that he must demonstrate his commitment to cutting greenhouse gases or risk undermining the United States' standing among its allies around the world.
In a March 6 memo to Bush after she met with European environmental ministers in Italy, Whitman told the president that global warming was an important "credibility issue" for the United States and that "we need to appear engaged . . . and build some bona fides first."
"I would strongly recommend that you continue to recognize that global warming is a real and serious issue," Whitman said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained Monday by the Washington Post.
One week later, however, Bush announced that he would not seek a reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Although Whitman's efforts to promote Bush's campaign promise on carbon dioxide have been known, the memo reveals the extent to which the former New Jersey governor lobbied the president before he made his decision. Disclosure of the memo served to further undercut Whitman on an issue on which she had staked out a high-profile position in the United States and abroad in the weeks leading up to the president's action, according to some Democratic members of Congress and officials with environmental groups.
"I respect Christie enormously, but I think the administration undermined her," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate of the need to address global warming. "The question is being asked, does she speak for the administration, and will she be able to enforce environmental laws and seek others where necessary?"
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Bush's actions are likely to leave Whitman "gunshy" and reluctant to press too hard for U.S. participation in an international global-warming agreement.
The White House, congressional Republicans and an aide to Whitman disputed the claims, saying that despite her differences with the president over carbon dioxide emissions, Whitman remains an influential and effective member of the administration.