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Bush Warms to Reality

June 04, 2002

During the 2000 presidential campaign, it seemed Al Gore couldn't stop discussing global warming and George W. Bush couldn't bear to talk about it. Bush has now begun to treat the issue seriously, though he is still far from proposing comprehensive solutions.

On Monday, the administration issued a quiet policy shift. The Environmental Protection Agency posted a report on its Web site acknowledging that man-made greenhouse gas emissions will increase global temperatures up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit this century and wreak environmental havoc.

The heat, the report said, will melt Sierra snowpacks, drown coral reefs and barrier islands, spread diseases transmitted by water and rodents and cause drought nearly everywhere. These conclusions are old news to most of the scientific world but still controversial in political circles.

The candor of the Bush report is welcome, especially given that fossil fuel companies lobbied the administration to omit projections of environmental damage and play up possible beneficial side effects of warming, like a growth in the productivity of some crops.

Environmentalists promptly lobbed complaints about the report. The first--that Bush focused on adapting to, rather than preventing, global warming--is unfair. Even the global warming bills that environmentalists favor would only slow warming, and government has to grapple with ways to save crops and coastal towns and prevent other havoc.

Still, the report should have included tougher controls on greenhouse gases. The text does not go beyond a general policy called Clear Skies that the administration issued in February. That proposal is based on an emissions-trading program that has successfully curbed acid rain since the first President Bush signed it into law in 1990. But it lacks the specific emissions reductions required in the Clean Air Act that Bush's father also signed.

Bush officials insist that specific emissions-reduction requirements would only discourage innovative, energy-efficient trading in a free market in which polluters "buy" credits from cleaner companies. The White House even wants to remove some current regulations, for instance easing the requirement that electric companies install up-to-date pollution controls when they upgrade or expand existing coal-fired plants. There is more emphasis on self-policing. It all sounds unsettlingly like the "trust but don't verify" energy deregulation that Enron officials pushed California legislators to enact.

Bush has taken a significant step. He should keep going, to specific, enforceable limits on greenhouse gases.

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