Multinational Monitor

MAY 2001
VOL 22 No. 5


Rollback: The Corporate Regulatory Feeding Frenzy
Foreward by
Monitor Staff

Bush's Corporate Cabinet
by Charlie Cray

The Repetitive Motion Un-Rule
by Deborah Weinstock

Arsenic and Old Regs
by Lynn Thorp

The Roadless Tramelled
by Ned Daly

Bankrupt Policies
by Jake Lewis

Bush’s Hot Air
by Phil Radford

Mining Their Own Business
by Charlie Cray

Defending Contractor Irresponsibility
by Robert Weissman

A Regulatory Accident in the Making
by Charlie Cray

Cheney and Halliburton: Go Where the Oil Is
by Kenny Bruno
and Jim Valette


The Politics and Law of Worker Rights
an interview with
William Gould


Behind the Lines

Challenging the Oiligarchy

The Front
Medical Privacy, For Now

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Bush’s Hot Air

by Phil Radford

President Bush’s reversal of a campaign promise to reduce global warming pollution –– carbon dioxide –– from power plants has contributed to a change of political climate in the United States, where the public is increasingly convinced that Bush favors corporate energy interests over the environment and public health.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. An excess of CO2 causes heat to be trapped in the atmosphere, forcing global temperatures upward, a process known as global warming.

The world’s leading climatologists agree that global warming could raise world temperatures by as much as 10 degrees before the end of this century, causing a range of effects from the extinction of coral reefs to the spread of infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus and dengue fever. Global warming has already caused sea levels to rise at a rate that will, within decades, put small island nations under water. An increase in the severity of hurricanes and droughts has been attributed to the phenomenon, causing both environmental and economic damage: in 1998 alone, the United States saw over $24.6 billion in economic losses due to extreme weather catastrophes.

The largest source of CO2 in the United States is the electric power industry, accounting for about 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. Of that, more than 74 percent of power plant emissions come from older, dirtier coal-fired facilities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

While on the campaign trail, Bush pledged that, if elected, he would require electric utilities to “reduce emissions and significantly improve air quality.” Bush proposed reducing the four main power plant pollutants –– sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, mercury and carbon dioxide –– in one law.

Under pressure from corporate lobbyists and administration insiders, Bush reversed himself in March, just days before moderate Republicans were poised to introduce such legislation.

In an open letter sent to Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, Bush explained that he does not believe “that the government should impose on power plants mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide, which is not a ‘pollutant’ under the Clean Air Act,” and that there is still an “incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change.”

Environmentalists say the Clean Air Act gives the EPA broad discretion in defining pollutants and that the reversal was clearly a political payback to campaign supporters.

Industry officials defend the reversal. They say reductions of CO2 are best achieved through voluntary measures which have already begun to achieve results without forcing the industry to make huge and unnecessary investments.

Dan Riedinger of the Edison Electric Institute says the electric power industry has “long been opposed to the regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act” because the electricity generators have been more successful at reducing or offsetting CO2 emissions through increased efficiencies and carbon absorption offsets such as the planting of trees than by directly reducing emissions. “We’ve got tried and true technologies to cut NOX and SO2, such as selective catalytic reductions, but there is no technology to remove CO2 from emissions at coal, oil or even gas-fired power plants,” Riedinger says.

According to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), Bush’s letter resulted from pressure by Hagel and other senior Congressional Republicans, as well as lobbyists from the coal and oil industries, and was routed through Nicholas Calio, Bush’s legislative affairs director. Calio and his top assistant both recently served as a paid lobbyists for Atlantic Richfield Co. (now part of BP Amoco) and Tenneco Automotive, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of automobile exhaust systems.

According to CPI, Hagel urged Bush to act after receiving an anonymous tip about efforts by the lame-duck Clinton administration to commit the United States to regulating carbon dioxide pollution levels as a step toward implementing the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. Senate has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Hagel’s second largest campaign contributor since 1995 has been the Edison International utility company.

Efforts to control the political damage caused by Bush’s reversal on CO2 have been limited by a pronounced backlash in Europe. EPA Administrator Christine Whitman had made assurances at the G-8 Environment Summit that the administration was committed to reducing CO2 emissions just days before Bush’s announcement was made.

The administration has also suffered from an apparent inability to salvage a legitimate reason for its new position, which is linked to its refusal to abide by the Kyoto Protocol.

“We will not do anything that harms our economy,” Bush explained on March 29.
According to Redefining Progress, 2,500 leading economists, including eight Nobel Laureates, have endorsed a 1997 declaration stating that policies to slow climate change can be enacted without harming either the United States economy or U.S. living standards.

Greenpeace’s Kert Davies says the United States may lose competitive economic advantage by dragging its feet on switching to clean energy. “Germany, for instance, is phasing out nuclear power while committing to a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. They are doing this in part by shifting their energy production investments to clean sources including wind and solar.”

Asked whether President Bush was concerned about the growing perception that corporate lobbyists such as Calio are making public policy decisions, Ari Fleisher, Bush’s press secretary says “the President makes his decisions based on what he believes is in the national interest … sometimes that will include business, and other times it will not.”

Phil Radford is a Washington, D.C.-based climate change activist.

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