Bush fiddles with global warming in State of the Union finale

It’s tempting, but most certainly optimistic, to view President Bush’s 2008 State of the Union as his last gasp at blocking progress on global warming. He will, after all, be gone from office before the year is out and it’s tempting to think he hasn’t sufficient time to further damage efforts to reign in climate change.

But there’s no time to lose. And continued obstructionism by the Bush Administration doesn’t just highlight its continuing failure to grasp the urgency of the problem, it also ensures far greater difficulties for its successors, who will have to arrest the problem at home while pressing other major polluters like China and India to act.

President Bush’s virtual dismissal of climate change last week in his State of the Union address was another lost opportunity in the global-warming struggle. Ideally, the lame-duck speech should have contained a pledge to work with the U.S. Congress on setting mandatory caps on carbon emissions.

That would have addressed America’s emissions problem while giving the U.S. the credibility to push China and India to also reign in their emissions. Indeed, many in Washington figure there’s no point in cutting emissions if China’s and India’s are growing at 10 per cent a year.

Instead, Bush picked up in his State of the Union where he left off in Bali with his dogged refusal to accept reduction targets, placing his faith instead in grandiose projects and technological leaps to solve a problem that is urgently here and now.

The administration works in nefarious ways. Defying heavy pressure from Congress and many state governors, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has held steady in its decision to prohibit California and a dozen other states from adopting aggressive measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

Nor has the EPA made any effort to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision last spring requiring the agency to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Bush has said he would follow the court’s order and the EPA promised new draft regulations by last fall, but has not done so.

Meanwhile, current Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have pledged to cut U.S. emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050. Republican contender John McCain has promised a 65 per cent cut. All agree this can only be achieved by legal caps on emissions.

This is the path advocated in a bill now before Congress. Sponsored by Republican Senators John Warner and Joseph Lieberman, it would impose binding targets on greenhouse-gas emissions. It is also the course Bush has pig-headedly resisted since he took office.

His speech suggests he’s not about to change.