Bush cites `crisis' in reversal on CO2

President abandons pledge on emissions

March 15, 2001|By David L. Greene and Karen Hosler | David L. Greene and Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush declared yesterday that America is in the midst of "an energy crisis now" to justify why he abandoned a campaign pledge and now opposes the regulation of power plants' carbon dioxide emissions.

Bush asserted that such regulation would overburden coal-burning plants and force rising energy prices up even more. Coal, which generates more than half the nation's electricity, is a major producer of carbon dioxide. And many scientists believe the gas contributes heavily to global warming.

"I am concerned that if we don't act in a commonsense way, that our people will not be able to heat and cool their homes," the president said.

Having seldom used the term "energy crisis" since taking office, Bush used it four times yesterday to explain his about-face on carbon dioxide regulation. The president insisted that his decision, which he spelled out in a letter to several Republican senators on Tuesday, was not a bow to pressure from the coal industry, as environmental groups and Democratic critics alleged. The coal industry contributed generously to the Republican Party last year.

"I was responding to reality, and [the] reality is, the nation has got a real problem when it comes to energy," Bush told reporters during a visit to New Jersey to promote his plans for faith-based outreach groups.

But the president's decision came after an intensive lobbying campaign by utility companies, as well as the coal-mining industry, which was crucial in delivering the traditionally Democratic state of West Virginia to Bush in the November election.

As the White House brushed aside suggestions that industry pressure played a part in its decision, some industry representatives were celebrating a victory. John Grasser, vice president of the National Mining Association, extolled the virtues of the "good old-fashioned lobbying" he said his organization engaged in over the past two weeks.

"We lobbied that something needs to be corrected here," said Grasser, who warned that reducing carbon dioxide emissions would cause many utility companies to switch to natural gas, which has soared in price in the past year, and force coal miners out of work.

Aides to Bush further explained the president's shift by saying that they only recently learned that carbon dioxide is not classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, even though most experts believe it is a leading cause of global warming.

Bipartisan opposition

Democrats moved aggressively yesterday to paint the president's decision as a major betrayal, especially after Bush, in a campaign address in Michigan in September, had offered unqualified support for carbon dioxide regulation.

"Our president has backed down on his word," said Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. "I would hope this carbon dioxide `read my lips' statement that President George W. Bush made is one that perhaps - perhaps - the Congress can do something about."

Bush's decision seemed also to surprise and frustrate some moderate Republicans, especially those who had expected his backing as they introduce a bipartisan bill today that would force power plants to curtail carbon dioxide emissions by 2007.

"I am profoundly disappointed," said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican, who said he would introduce the legislation anyway.

"The president took the correct stand during his campaign on Sept. 29," Boehlert said in a statement. "None of the information the president cites to explain his reversal was unknown on Sept. 29."

Bush's reversal dealt a blow to environmental organizations, who had praised the president for taking a campaign position on carbon dioxide emissions that was surprising for a Republican presidential candidate.

Now, said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, "the president is quickly assembling a very bad environmental record." Bush, he added, "is pasting a big anti-environmental label all over the Republican Party."

In his letter to Republican senators, Bush said he reversed his decision after considering a report from his Energy Department that concluded that restricting carbon dioxide releases would cause energy prices to rise "significantly."

Bush said his administration "takes the issue of global climate change very seriously." But he also wrote, "I do not believe, however, that the government should impose on power plants mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide, which is not a `pollutant' under the Clean Air Act."

In September, Bush delivered a speech in Saginaw, Mich., in which he outlined a "four-pollutant strategy" that would regulate releases of mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide.

In an interview with CNN less than three weeks ago, Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's Environmental Protection Agency chief, was promoting his vow to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and pledging that the United States would be a world partner in helping combat global warming.

The new Bush stance

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