Bush has always opposed mandatory reductions in emissions without the same cuts in developing countries like India and China, arguing that it would hurt the U.S. economy. So his announcement on April 16 that his new approach will be driven by voluntary measures on the part of industry and individuals was not a surprise.
“There are a number of ways to achieve these reductions, but all responsible approaches depend on accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies,” he said.
Bush didn’t offer many specifics to support his broad goal. Instead, he offered a general outline of the measures he plans to take in his last few months in office.
“To reach this goal, we will pursue an economy-wide strategy that builds on the solid foundation we have in place," he said. "As part of this strategy, we worked with Congress to pass energy legislation that specifies a new fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and requires fuel producers to supply at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022. This should provide an incentive for shifting to a new generation of fuels like cellulosic ethanol that will reduce concerns about food prices and the environment."
His remarks came one day before world leaders gather in Paris for international climate-change negotiations.
Dragging Its Feet?
Bush also called for a slowdown of growth in greenhouse-gas emissions from the electrical power industry, to the point where they can begin declining in 10 or 15 years. He said taken together, his actions will “prevent billions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.”
Over the past seven years, critics have accused the Bush administration of dragging its feet on the issue of climate change. The United States is the only industrialized country that hasn’t signed the Kyoto treaty on reducing global emissions.
In his remarks, Bush defended his record, saying his administration had taken a “balanced, rational” approach to the problem. He said he had put the nation “on the path to slow, stop, and eventually reverse” emissions of the gases scientists say are responsible for the warming of the Earth.
And he put his faith in America’s ability to develop less-harmful sources of energy.
"The strategy I’ve laid out today shows faith in the ingenuity and enterprise of the American people, and that’s a resource that’s never going to run out," Bush said. "I’m confident that, with sensible and balanced policies from Washington, American innovators and entrepreneurs will pioneer a new generation of technology that improves our environment, strengthens our economy, and continues to amaze the world.”
The U.S. president also had a warning for Congress. He said he will not support any current proposals awaiting legislative action. The Senate is preparing to debate the Climate Security Act -- which is co-sponsored by a member of Bush’s own party -- in June. The bill would cap greenhouse gases and allow polluters to offset their costs by buying emission “credits.”
The House of Representatives is also moving toward a so-called cap-and-trade proposal. Advocates say this approach could cut emissions by 70 percent by 2050. The Bush administration staunchly opposes it, and today Bush again called it “the wrong approach.”
'We Ought To Take The Lead'
Daniel Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the Washington policy group Center for American Progress, says it is Bush who is taking the wrong approach, however.
“He talks about setting goals. He talks about investing in technology, but he also comes out against using existing laws to reduce global warming, as well as the pending Climate Security Act that would make a huge dent in our global warming pollution," Weiss says. "President Bush [used] this speech to oppose all solutions, without offering any real solutions of his own.”
Weiss said strong action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions would create new industries and jobs in the fields of renewable electricity, renewable fuels, and cleaner cars. By opposing meaningful cuts in U.S. emissions until China and India agree to do the same, Weiss said Bush has made America a follower, instead of a leader.
"It’s important to note that the U.S. is responsible for about 30 percent of the global warming pollution that’s already in the atmosphere -- more than any other single nation," Weiss says. "We ought to take the lead in solving the problem.”
All three candidates trying to become the next U.S. president -- Republican John McCain, and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- have pledged to take a more aggressive approach to the problem, and all support mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.
Senate Democrats reacted to Bush’s remarks by saying his plan would allow for continued growth of greenhouse gases for 20 more years.
Barbara Boxer, the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, called Bush's new climate strategy "worse than doing nothing” and “the height of irresponsibility."