As if we haven't already had enough bad economic news, now come reports of another attack on the economy from within the Bush administration. Even as President George W. Bush stumps for his tax rate reductions, he's facing a rear-guard assault on his economic program by members of his own Cabinet: massive hikes in energy costs masquerading as environmental safeguards.
A faction pushing executive action to undertake the colossal and futile task of regulating carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere attempted to sneak a passage into the president's budget speech to Congress requiring the administration to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant. Such a declaration would smuggle the eco-extremism of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming into the Bush administration under a bureaucratic veil called the "four pollutant strategy." The scheme was thwarted when cooler heads inside the White House convinced the president to remove the passage from his speech.
The Kyoto Protocol, which President Bill Clinton signed but refused to submit to the U.S. Senate because he knew it wouldn't be ratified, would impose severe restraints on U.S. energy use on the theory that carbon dioxide emissions, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, make global temperatures rise when their atmospheric concentrations increase. While Bush has indicated he opposes the Kyoto Protocol as an extreme approach to combating global climate change, he has also indicated that he is concerned about climate change and the possibility that it is a serious problem.
The president has left the door open to eco-extremism within his own ranks by failing to dismiss the phony science of global warming for the fear-mongering it really is. While there is a measurable increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, no plausible link has been established between that CO2 and climate trends. Sample ground measurements show warming in recent years, but satellite measurements don't.
Serious climatologists say the Earth has been emerging from a "little ice age" since the early 19th century, and other theories - including solar activity - are equally plausible explanations for such warming as has been observed. Dr. John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, calls highly touted U.N. reports of impending climate disasters "the worst-case scenario. It's the one that's not going to happen." Christy also assures us that "Variations of climate have always occurred, even when humans could not have had any impact."
The Kyoto accord ignores all this, requiring us to cut energy use by 5 percent below 1990 levels. That would mean slashing energy use by 30 percent or 40 percent, an absurd idea, particularly in light of California's energy crisis.
The global-warming crowd that wants to regulate CO2 as a pollutant has a strong ally in Environmental Protection Agency Director Christie Whitman, who said that global warming is a real phenomenon and that CO2 emissions would have to be capped in some way. But CO2 is not a pollutant in any logical reading of the Clean Air Act. It is a fundamental building block of the world's ecology, a product of human respiration that is essential to photosynthesis, key to both natural ecosystems and agriculture. If the Bush administration seriously wants to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant, they have to accept the consequences for the rest of the president's agenda.
If CO2 emissions are regulated as a pollutant, we are well down the road to implementing the very Kyoto Protocol the president opposes. Kyoto's whole premise is regulating CO2 (and a few other) emissions based on hypothetical warming impacts on ecosystems, health and weather. The only reason to regulate CO2, in fact, is to promote the Kyoto agenda.
And CO2 regulation would be expensive for the American people. The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy reports that it would drive the cost of electricity up by 21 percent in 2005 and 55 percent by 2010. Vice President Dick Cheney has been given the task of developing a comprehensive energy plan this spring, and Bush has made clear he wants Americans to produce more energy more efficiently, not less energy at greater cost. There is no way to proceed with CO2 regulation and achieve the administration's energy goals.
Fortunately, there's a better way. The president should instruct Cheney to review the CO2 issue as part of his energy policy task force. That way the issue can be framed in the proper context of government-wide energy and economic policy. Put in that perspective, I'm confident the president will reach the right decision: Stay away from the entire Kyoto mindset of energy demand management and fear of economic progress.