Too Good to be True

President Bush's flip-flop on climate sets a dangerous precedent for special interests

During his campaign, President George W. Bush implied that, unlike his opponent, he could be trusted to keep his word. Now, two months into his term, he has already broken a major campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

His previous position, outlined in a campaign statement, argued that carbon dioxide ought to be regulated like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury--other major pollutants. While far from a progressive stance, Bush at least appeared to break with the long-outdated Republican dogma that global warming is not a danger. It was refreshing to see a major GOP candidate embrace the conclusion reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently declared that human-generated carbon dioxide has unequivocally contributed to global warming.

But, of course, it was too good to be true. Under pressure from coal lobbyists and Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush reversed course and claimed that his original position was an "error." Given the intense scrutiny given to presidential platforms, that excuse rings hollow.


Bush justified the reversal by citing the Western energy crisis. But regardless of whether regulating carbon dioxide emissions would raise prices for consumers, it would not have a direct effect on California's situation. California's energy is mostly generated from hydropower, nuclear plants and natural gas; coal and oil play a relatively minor role in the state's overall power picture.

Falling quickly back into the rhetoric he earlier eschewed, Bush referred to "incomplete scientific knowledge" about the causes and solutions to global climate change. These continued denials of the existence of global warming only pollute the political atmosphere, distracting policymakers from the real task: finding a solution. Global warming is a time-critical issue--if neglected, the consequences for humanity could be catastrophic.

By caving in to Big Coal so early in his administration on such an important issue, Bush has also given a signal that he can be pushed around by special interests. His efforts thus far to prevent businesses from inserting loopholes into his proposed tax cut have been undermined; if coal and oil lobbyists are so persuasive, others are certainly not far behind.

In the future, when Bush takes a courageous stand against his own party, he should stick to it. Leadership, after all, is what being president is all about.

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