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Views Run Hot and Cold on Clinton's Gala for Forecasters

He seeks to advance his policies on global warming, as international summit on climate change nears.

By Skip ThurmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 1, 1997



WASHINGTON

For 100 weathercasters from across the country, it's a reason to get out of the office, a chance to do a forecast from the White House lawn.

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For the Clinton administration, it is an attempt to shape national policy - by wooing the Willard Scotts of the world.

For others, it's just a bad idea.

Currently under way at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a special two-day seminar on global climate change for weathercasters - all courtesy of the White House. They'll have a meeting with the president and vice president this afternoon. Some have already checked out the front lawn, where they expect to deliver their local forecasts. And the White House hopes they ad-lib on global warming - not any cold fronts that may be produced by Vice President Al Gore.

But even in a city permanently set on spin cycle, where photo-ops are a more beloved pastime than baseball, some see this latest move as a step too far. With President Clinton locked in a heated battle for public opinion about the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment, critics say this as an overt attempt by the administration to broadcast its opinion through local weather reports.

"I don't think there is any question, this is a very calculated decision in terms of the administration's environmental position," says Valerie Voss, senior meteorologist for the Cable News Network (CNN). "The best way to get that position out is through a television weathercaster. We are popular in local communities, people tune in to hear weather.... It would be very easy [for local newscasters] to go back and say, 'This is what I heard, and here is what the administration wants to do about it.' "

The coming months are crucial to the administration's push to curb industrial and commercial emissions of greenhouse gases in the near future. The administration contends these emissions are harmful to the protective ozone layer around the earth, and it is hosting a summit of scientists and experts at Georgetown University here next week to discuss the issue further.

All of this occurs as the administration tinkers with the fine print of the treaty it will present at an international summit on climate change in Kyoto, Japan, this December.

The president has warned that a national policy aimed at curbing the emission of greenhouse gases may be necessary for long-term climactic well-being - a position that industry and many in Congress oppose. And the seminar has raised the ire of some who expect to oppose the president's position on curbing emissions.

But those involved with the seminar see nothing wrong with the idea of informing the nation's weathercasters about what they see as a major climactic issue. They point out that the government cooperates with local weathercasters on other concerns, so why should this be any different?

"They just seemed like a natural," the National Weather Service's Randee Exler says of bringing in local weathermen and women. "We rely on the media as our partners to inform the public," both in routine and crisis weather conditions, she explains.

Still, critics see problems behind the idea. While no one expects weathercasters to now add a daily ozone-depletion count to their reports, some worry that the usual forecast chit-chat could be influenced by this week's seminar - especially when climate change is in the news, as during December's Kyoto summit.

"Most television personalities are not trained climatologists," says Connie Holmes, who serves the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group involved in a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort that runs counter to Mr. Clinton's. "There is a good chance that some will not see through the politics," she adds.

It is unclear how many of those invited are trained meteorologists and how many are weather presenters.