Bush feels heat on climate change

The president this week announced an auto-emissions plan designed to cut US oil consumption by 10 percent in 20 years.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In dusting off his State of the Union plan to promote alternative fuels and adjust vehicle fuel efficiency standards this week, President Bush is responding to a multitude of pressures:

• from the US Supreme Court, which last month ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide;

• from another federal lawsuit argued May 14 in court in San Francisco, in which 11 states say Uncle Sam has failed to adequately raise auto mileage standards;

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• from record-high gasoline pump prices;

• and from a Congress controlled by Democrats eager to engage the US government in addressing global warming.

Specifically, Mr. Bush ordered federal agencies to come up with regulations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks by the end of his administration some 20 months from now, The Washington Post reported. The goal is to reduce the projected growth in US oil consumption 20 percent below current forecasts within 10 years, mainly through a steady increase in the use of alternative fuels. In his Rose Garden announcement, the president said:

"When it comes to energy and the environment, the American people expect common sense, and they expect action.
"The policies I've laid out have got a lot of common sense to them. It makes sense to do what I proposed, and we're taking action, by taking the first steps toward rules that will make our economy stronger, our environment cleaner, and our nation more secure for generations to come."

Within minutes of Bush's announcement, critics were pouncing on what they saw as its environmental and energy failings. On his blog, Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch depicted the program as going nowhere, bound tightly in a big ball of red tape:

"Under the new Bush plan, EPA would have to gain the 'concurrence' of other federal agencies such as the Energy and Transportation Departments before moving ahead with any plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality would oversee the effort.
"In other words, the White House has just wrapped the EPA in a straitjacket of bureaucratic process."

Nor were leading climate-change activists on Capitol Hill very pleased. "In effect, the president asked his agency heads to share ideas and come up with a plan that is due three weeks before he leaves office," said Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of a new House select committee on climate change, according to the Post. Mr. Markey said that decision "will leave motor vehicle fuel economy stuck in neutral until Bush's successor takes office."

Officials in California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration were quick to echo criticism of Bush's plan to the Copley News Service. "We are concerned that this is a recipe for delay," said Linda Adams, secretary of the state's Environmental Protection Agency. We are concerned it is a stalling tactic." And Robert Sawyer, chairman of the state Air Resources Board, appeared even more skeptical of the plan. "It's awfully late, and I'm not confident it's real," Sawyer said

All along, Bush has resisted both mandatory restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions as well as calls for stiffer Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for motor vehicles, which was observed in Investor's Business Daily.

"Rather than setting specific fuel-efficiency standards in law, the White House wants Congress to give the transportation secretary the discretion to set appropriate targets based on cost-benefit analysis and without impacting safety."

Just as Bush was making his announcement, California Attorney General Jerry Brown was "escalating California's legal war with the federal government over global warming policies," reported the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Brown was in federal court in San Francisco May 14 to challenge federal auto mileage standards on behalf of 11 states and several environmental groups. Like the recent Supreme Court fight over whether CO2 is a pollutant subject to regulation by the EPA, this promises to center on fundamental differences over the government's role in mandating vehicles that are less harmful to the atmosphere.

"Congress directed the agency to balance the ultimate goal of increased fuel economy against the need to preserve economic stability and consumer choice," Bush administration lawyers wrote in response to the lawsuit argued this week, the Associated Press reports. Federal law does not allow the agency to disregard that balance "to combat the global concerns raised by the emission of carbon dioxide by vehicles," the government lawyers wrote.

Federal law does not allow the agency to disregard that balance "to combat the global concerns raised by the emission of carbon dioxide by vehicles," the government lawyers wrote.

Meanwhile, Bush's fuel-efficiency announcement came as US gasoline prices hit a new high, noted the Cox News Service. The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline hit $3.07.

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