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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

President Bush and CO2

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Fallout over President Bush's decision to renege on the campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide continues with major repercussions at home and abroad. Now, you'd expect environmental advocates to call the move a capitulation to the coal industry and climate change skeptics. But it's also straining fault lines in the Republican party. Several moderate Republicans have joined Democrats in filing a bill to regulate CO2. They're also privately calling the president's action a betrayal of EPA chief and moderate Republican Christine Todd Whitman who'd been instructed by the White House to pledge CO2 caps at a meeting of G8 environmentalists in Trieste, Italy just a few weeks ago. It's no surprise then that some allies are saying the U.S. can't be trusted at the bargaining table. With me now is Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. Hello, sir.

CLAPP: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: What happens next? Let's look at the domestic side of this. What happens to carbon dioxide?

CLAPP: There's no question there's going to be a major debate on cleaning up dirty coal-fired power plants in this Congress. And I think there are many members of Congress who would like to pass that kind of legislation by the end of 2002, before the 2002 elections, where the environment, many of them anticipate, will be an issue.

CURWOOD: Are the Republicans going to be able to work out a compromise here or is the split just simply going to stay there?

CLAPP: I think there's going to have to be a compromise and I think it's likely to happen, you know, over the next 18 months as the legislation is completed because I think that the Bush administration itself will want to pass power plant legislation that does clean up conventional air pollutants, the things that cause urban air pollution. And that focuses debate squarely on what are we going to do about the additional air pollution that causes global warming. And the Bush administration is going to have come to some compromises on that.

CURWOOD: Internationally, the Japanese are saying that Mr. Bush's decision is regrettable. The European Union has officially expressed concern. What does this mean for the climate change negotiations?

CLAPP: The talks that will go on in Bonn in July, which are the next resumption of the climate change negotiations, are likely to be much more difficult for the Bush administration because of this. The Europeans very clearly feel that they were lied to. And the administration has to come forward with something that will give them some reason to believe that they can be trusted as negotiating partners. And remember that the Bush administration has many other agendas with the Europeans, among them getting agreement to a U.S. missile defense shield, getting Europeans to assume more responsibilities for their own defense, and climate change is such a huge issue in Europe that there are political reasons for those own governments why they have to have the Bush administration moving on this. And the timing, another interesting point is that the timing puts a particular spotlight on it. The negotiations in Bonn take place in the middle two weeks of July. In the weekend that comes in the middle of those negotiations, the G8 Summit, President Bush's first meeting with European heads of state, occurs in Genoa. So, the entire focus of, not only the climate change negotiations, but the G8 summit will be on the U.S. position on climate change.

CURWOOD: Just before this meeting in Trieste, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair met privately with George Bush up at Camp David. What information do you have about how the British government, in particular, is responding to this move?

CLAPP: At Camp David apparently Prime Minister Blair raised the issue and received assurances from the president that the United States intended to be constructively engaged in Kyoto Protocol negotiations, despite his, the president's, concerns about the structure of the treaty and other issues. But, that the attempt would be to create a structure that the United States, too, could ratify. And the president, now casting aspersions on the science, caving in and saying that carbon dioxide is not an air pollutant, all of these things are completely at odds with that, and the British are quite shocked.

CURWOOD: And furious?

CLAPP: I think so. It came at a very bad time for the Prime Minister because they have an election campaign going on in Britain and a bipartisan committee of the Parliament recently criticized the prime minister for inaction on climate change and other environmental issues which led him to do such things as cancel a major economic speech, which is usually the most important thing to talk about in the middle of an election, and reschedule it to be an environmental speech which heavily focused on global warming. So, here's Tony Blair on the hot seat in Britain, politically on environmental issues and he got seriously undercut by the Bush administration.

CURWOOD: What do you think will happen in the future in a similar case like this? How responsive do you think the president is going to be when industry calls in?

CLAPP: Well, that's the most disturbing thing about this, is that industry was able to push the panic button very fast and very hard on this administration. Even when the president was very publicly out on a limb and very clearly committed to something.

CURWOOD: What's next?

CLAPP: That's not quite clear yet. The Bush administration clearly is in complete disarray on its carbon policy and on its climate change policy. There's been a great deal of press about how smooth the transition has been and how much control and command the president already has of the government and so forth. And frankly, this is a very big sign that a lot of that really isn't true.

CURWOOD: Phillip Clapp is president of the National Environmental Trust in Washington D.C. Thank you sir for taking this time.

CLAPP: Thank you, Steve.



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