After Rejecting Climate Treaty, Bush Calls In Tutors to Give Courses and Help Set One
By ANDREW C. REVKINPublished: April 28, 2001
In the wake of its rejection of an international treaty to curtail global warming, the Bush administration is seeking advice from a wide array of scientists, economists, business representatives and policy experts as it tries to forge a new approach to the contentious issue.Most of those consulted, senior government officials said, are asserting that the science pointing to a serious problem is sound, and that there isneed for concrete action to stem rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by smokestacks and tailpipes. Although the new effort is mainly taking the form of cabinet briefings behind closed doors, it is widely seen as a substantial broadening of aprocess that until recently was so tightly controlled by a small circle of advisers that cabinet members themselves often gave conflicting accountsof President Bush's plans.The broadening has elicited expressions of cautious relief from environmental campaigners and frustration by conservatives and skeptics about warming's dangers. But both sides said they could not predict how the review would influence the Bush administration, which is under pressureto devise an alternative to the rejected climate treaty.''This group is reaching out for a diversity of views on climate issues,'' said Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman. ''This is a very serious matterthat the president takes very seriously.'' At the briefings, held about once a week over the last month, half a dozen members of Mr. Bush's cabinet and, most of the time, Vice PresidentDick Cheney have spent a couple of hours in what amounts to Climate 101.The list of speakers has been dominated by scientists and policy experts who believe that a recent global warming trend is at least partly caused by humans, poses serious risks and requires a significant response to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.The presenters have included Dr. James E. Hansen, a government climate expert who in 1988 testified about the problem before the Senate atthe invitation of Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, and Dr. Daniel L. Albritton, the head of a federal climate laboratory and a lead authorof an international report pointing to serious risks from global warming for coming decades.The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group, was widely criticized by conservative groups as biased but has been held up by many others as strong new evidence justifying action.The participants all declined to discuss the substance of the meetings at the request of the White House. But some said they saw the meetings asa sign of new openness on the issue.''It is encouraging that they are spending serious time gathering information and facts in the development of their policy,'' said Kevin Fay, a business official who was a presenter at the most recent briefing, on Tuesday.Mr. Fay is the executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, an organization representing what he calls ''the progressivecowering middle of industry,'' businesses that seek to be environmental stewards, but with the bottom line in mind. Another sign of the administration's new tack in recent days is its recruitment of seasoned experts in climate issues from the ranks of variousagencies as it assembles a team to come up with policy options, which officials plan to present to Mr. Bush by the end of May.Particularly urgent is an effort to come up with an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty that was negotiated and signed by the Clintonadministration and summarily rejected by Mr. Bush last month. Mr. Bush said that its binding limits on greenhouse gases could harm theeconomy and that it unfairly excluded fast-growing economic powers like China and India.That decision came shortly after Mr. Bush renounced a campaign pledge he had made to include mandatory carbon dioxide cuts in a cleanup of power plants.Both announcements came after a flurry of lobbying by conservatives who have long opposed restrictions on carbon dioxide, which is, at leastfor now, a byproduct of almost every activity in modern industrial society.But the announcements produced a flood of bad press and the first bruises for Mr. Bush in some public opinion polls. With the dust settling, there is a growing realization at the White House that the blunt rejection of the treaty may have caused more problemsthan it solved.''The decisions six weeks ago were made in an appalling vacuum of information,'' said a senior government official involved in the climate policy review, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.''A substantial portion of the people involved wish they had it to do over again,'' the official said. ''They might still have rejected Kyoto, butprobably in a different way. Now you're seeing a genuine effort to get a balanced perspective.''The briefings have been intimate affairs, officials said, including only a handful of White House staff members and a varying roster of cabinetmembers and government executives -- generally from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, State and Treasury, as wellas the Environmental Protection Agency.The first two sessions, held at Commerce Department headquarters and then the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, werestrictly science.