Editorial: Eight years of inaction on climate change
George W. Bush entered the White House expressing doubts about whether global warming is real or whether human activity is contributing to it. He has changed that tune, agreeing last week with G-8 leaders that carbon dioxide emissions must be substantially reduced.
But on his return to Washington, Bush took an action that demonstrates that whatever he now thinks about global climate change, he will leave office without having done anything about it.
At a three-day meeting of the world's eight wealthiest countries, the Group of Eight summit, Bush and the other leaders endorsed a proposal to cut emissions in half by 2050. But there's a vague statement of principle, not a binding plan. It appears to be lip service rather than commitment.
Still, the summit shows that world leaders acknowledge the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it was good to see Bush going along.
But while Bush's consistency is more like stubbornness on some issues, he has been anything but faithful when it comes to climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.
On the campaign trail in 2000, Bush promised to have the Environmental Protection Agency regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the authority given EPA in the Clean Air Act. But soon after taking office, he reversed that position, declaring such regulations would hurt the economy and that the EPA had no such authority.
That issue has percolated ever since. A year ago, the Supreme Court weighed in, ruling against the administration and instructing the EPA to get working on carbon dioxide regulations. In response, EPA scientists reported late last year that global warming is indeed a threat to public health, and agency professionals reported in May that the Clean Air Act was an appropriate tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Then the White House stepped in. On Thursday, it rejected the EPA's findings on the Clean Air Act. On Friday, the EPA released a new report that mentions no threat to public health. Instead of promulgating rules limiting emissions, the new EPA report calls for a six-month delay to solicit further public comment.
The bottom line is that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will leave office after eight years not just having failed to initiate any meaningful action in the face of the planet's greatest environmental threat, but having thwarted every effort by the professionals in their own administration, the Congress and the Supreme Court to respond to a crisis that grows by the day.
The world may long regret the eight years of lost opportunity for which Bush and Cheney are responsible.