Sunday, July 13, 2008

Posturing and Abdication

by The New York Times
July 13, 2008

The Bush administration made clear on Friday that it will do virtually nothing to regulate the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. With no shame and no apology, it stuck a thumb in the eye of the Supreme Court, repudiated its own scientists and exposed the hollowness of Mr. Bush’s claims to have seen the light on climate change.

That is the import of an announcement by Stephen Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, that the E.P.A. will continue to delay a decision on whether global warming threatens human health and welfare and requires regulations to address it. Mr. Johnson said his agency would seek further public comment on the matter, a process that will almost certainly stretch beyond the end of Mr. Bush’s term.

The urgent problem of global warming demands urgent action. And the Supreme Court surely expected a speedier response when — 15 months ago — it ordered the E.P.A. to determine whether greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles (and, by extension, other sources) endangers human welfare and, if so, to issue regulations to limit emissions.

Mr. Bush initially promised to comply, and last December, a task force of agency scientists concluded that emissions do indeed endanger public welfare, that the E.P.A. is required to issue regulations, and that while remedial action could cost industry billions of dollars, the public welfare and the economy as a whole will benefit.

The agency sent its findings to the White House. The details of what happened next are not clear. But investigations by Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Edward Markey have established that the White House, prodded by Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, decided to ignore the findings — refusing at first to even open the e-mail containing them and then asking Mr. Johnson to devise another response that would relieve the administration of taking prompt action.

Along the way, the administration engaged in what Senator Boxer has aptly called a “master plan” to ensure that the E.P.A.’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision would be as weak as possible.

This campaign of obfuscation and intimidation included doctoring Congressional testimony on the health effects of climate change; ordering the E.P.A. to recompute its numbers to minimize the economic benefits of curbing carbon dioxide; and promoting the fiction that the modest fuel-economy improvements in last year’s energy bill would solve the problem of carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

All this is unfortunate but not surprising. Mr. Bush spent years denying there was a climate change problem. And while he no longer denies the science, he still insists on putting the concerns of industry over the needs of the planet.

We were skeptical last week when Mr. Bush joined other world leaders in a pledge to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. We worried that without nearer-term targets there would be too little pressure on governments to act. Now we have no doubt that he was merely posturing. The next president, armed with the E.P.A.’s findings, can and must do better.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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