WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few months make. In mid-January, I was asked to stay on for a couple of months in the White House to advise President Bush's team on environmental issues such as global warning and natural resources.
Yes, I was a Clinton political appointee, but I felt the issues were important.I had no idea that anti-environmental positions would become the defining element of the first 100 days of the Bush presidency.
Despite my disappointment about the election results, I thought in January that there were a few specific reasons for hope on environmental policy under Bush. Hadn't he promised to take significant new steps to fight global warming, promoted an ambitious plan to save the world's threatened tropical forests, and campaigned on ''compassionate conservation'' and a ''humble foreign policy''?
Fast forward to the events of the last month. Brushing aside the consultations with electric utilities and environmental organizations that led to his historic campaign commitment last fall, the White House quickly reversed its pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. While first saying the CO2 pledge was simply ''a mistake,'' the White House later said the reversal was due to an ''an energy crisis'' and ''uncertain'' science about the causes of global warning.
These justifications struck me as wrong and misleading. Long-term efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants have nothing to do with botched deregulation of retail electricity prices in California and are entirely unrelated to the price of petroleum at the pump for Americans. Perhaps more important, the basic link between carbon dioxide emissions, accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the phenomenon of climatic change is not seriously disputed in the scientific community. I left the White House the following week.
Shortly thereafter, the administration declared the Kyoto accords on global warming to be ''dead,'' including for the 185 other countries that have been working on them for six years.
Reactions from Europe were swift and predictably strong: ''Surely, you have specific changes you seek? The United States is too important to walk away from the challenge of global warming.'' Calls, delegations, and diplomatic protests have streamed into Washington. It's still front page news in Europe today.
What about tropical forests? Last October candidate Bush caught my attention with his striking press statement. ''Environmental groups have harshly criticized Al Gore's record on global warming and deforestation, while Governor Bush has offered a plan that will help protect the endangered tropical forests of Latin and South America.''
Bush promised to both take aggressive steps on CO2 and dramatically expand US efforts on tropical forests through ''a minimum of $100 million per year'' for an innovative ''debt-for-nature'' swap program.
In the budget, however, the White House asked for zero new funds for this program, and instead requests the ability to divert $13 million from another agency's limited environmental funding to keep the program barely alive. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and asking Congress to give one-eighth of the funds from your only specific commitment to international environmental issues isn't leadership. It's malpractice.
In the name of ''balance,'' the administration is taking on a laundry list of environmental goals ranging from reducing arsenic levels in drinking water and funding for renewable energy to protections for forests and national monuments, from new road building and oil drilling. Perversely, its signature energy/environment issue seems to be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Last week, the White House made a modest set of announcements to support some environmental regulations from the previous administration and to sign a hazardous chemicals treaty we negotiated over the last several years. While positive, these are decisions to maintain the status quo. Instead of showing new leadership, the Bush administration has defined itself on the environment by breaking two important campaign promises and by a series of decisions about whether or not to roll back the achievements of the Clinton administration. Too often, the decisions have been against the environment.
These are not the actions of an administration interested in representing the views of mainstream Americans but the actions of an administration focused on pleasing the right wing and the minority of industry that can't see the forest for the trees.
There will be a backlash from both the voters and Congress. When historians write about his first 100 days, they will view the environment as Bush's Achilles' heel.
Ian Bowles, co-author of ''Footprints in the Jungle,'' was President Clinton's senior adviser on environmental issues at the National Security Council.
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