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 # 332  

 April 2001




Bush is Right on the Environment - But He Needs Help to Prove It

by Amy Ridenour

 

Although you wouldn't know it from his critics, President Bush has so far taken the correct actions on environmental issues - including his controversial decisions to end U.S. consideration of the Kyoto global warming treaty and against regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

But if Bush continues to make environ-mental decisions this way, he may find himself in political trouble.

Bush's environmental critics have been unjustifiably snide, even by Washington's harsh standards.

The Democratic National Committee took a swipe at Bush's intelligence and his motives: "Realizing - perhaps for the first time - that America is a large country with a huge environment to destroy, George W. Bush is now releasing new anti-environmental initiatives at the alarming rate of almost one per day."

Although he easily could do so, Bush has largely failed to defend himself on scientific grounds. And as some of his appointees are closer to Al Gore than to Bush on environ-mental issues (new EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman is referred to as "Christie Todd Browner," a reference to Clinton's EPA chief, a Gore ally), Bush's team isn't backing him on science issues the way it could.

The public is only hearing Bush's view that these decisions are right for energy consumers and the economy, but little about his view on their environmental impact.

Bush's global warming decisions clearly are right for the economy. According to a Clinton-era report by U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, carbon dioxide limits like those in the proposed Kyoto global warming treaty would reduce real U.S. gross domestic product by $400 billion.1 WEFA, an economic information and consulting firm, reports that 2.4 million jobs would be lost and manufacturing wages reduced by 2.1% if Kyoto were to be ratified.2

The decisions also are good for consumers. The Department of Energy report says Kyoto-style limits would permanently raise gasoline prices by 66 cents per gallon, increase electricity prices by 86% and add $1,740 to the typical household's annual energy bill.3 WEFA says Kyoto-style regulations would increase costs for basic goods by 14.5%. Grocery bills would increase by 9%, medical bills by 11% and housing costs would rise 21% because of an increase in the cost of materials.4

Bush's actions are right, too, for minorities and lower income Americans, groups Bush has pledged to reach out to during his Adminis-tration. A report commissioned by six African-American and Hispanic organizations, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, concludes that the carbon-dioxide limiting Kyoto global warming treaty, if ratified, would reduce the earnings of black and Hispanic workers by 10% and throw 864,000 blacks and 511,000 Hispanics out of work. Commenting on the negative impact of Kyoto on minorities, Oscar Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, says: "Some people seem to forget the harsh lessons that we learned in the 1970s when an inadequate energy policy resulted in economic devastation for millions within the black and Hispanic communities."5

These are important facts for the public to know. But people also need to know that Bush's decisions won't harm the environment.

If President Bush does not tell Americans his Administration is not dangerously heating the planet, raping the countryside of trees, polluting water or driving species into extinction, Americans will believe those who make such claims.

Bush cannot afford to leave harsh attacks unanswered. Sometimes mud sticks, as it did in 1995, when Democrats repeatedly, and preposterously, said the GOP wanted to starve children. If Democrats repeatedly charge that Bush actively seeks to destroy the environment, some will believe it. The Democratic National Committee may be wrong to mislead the public about Bush's motives, but it isn't wrong on the political value of repeatedly making the charge.

One solution for the President: Bush could appoint a high-profile science advisor who can brief the press and public about the expected scientific impacts of his decisions.

Bush needs a high-profile scientist on his team who can explain positions and answer hysterical attacks, like those of DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who recently said "Bush's idea of cleaning up the environment is stripping it bare... Our environment is our legacy, and George W. Bush is intent on squandering it."

Someone like physicist Dr. Fred Singer, who devised the basic instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone and who was the first scientist to predict that population growth would increase atmospheric methane - an important greenhouse gas. Singer has a masterful ability to explain complex scientific theories to laymen and the courage to call things as he sees them. Or Dr. John Christy, one of the nation's 49 state climatologists, a lead author of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and an ordained minister who aids the starving in Africa. Or Richard Lindzen, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leading investigator of the role of clouds in global warming.

What Bush needs is a science advisor who will have the courage to tell Bush he agrees with Bush's critics when they are right and the courage to disagree with the critics when they are wrong, even if the critics are popular or powerful. He needs a science advisor with the integrity to admit it - as special interest groups rarely will - when the science isn't settled yet, and the true answers aren't known for sure by anyone.

Environmental issues will be among the most contentious in Bush's presidency. The President is making sound decisions and deserves a robust scientific defense. The American public deserves to hear one.




Footnotes:

1 "Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on the United States," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC, October 1998.

2 "Global Climate Change Policy, U.S. Living Standards and Environmental Quality," WEFA, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997.

3 "Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on the United States."

4 "Global Climate Change Policy, U.S. Living Standards and Environmental Quality."

5 "Study Says Global Warming Treaty Will Hurt U.S. Minorities," Associated Press, July 6, 2000.


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Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].



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