Blair vs. Bush

Posted: Jun 13, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Behind their brave common front on Iraq shown the world by Tony Blair and George W. Bush in Washington last week, the British prime minister is orchestrating an aggressive campaign to force the American president to retreat on climate change. Blair and the other European leaders are aiming at next month's G8 industrial summit in Scotland as the last good chance to get the U.S. to back the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases.
Blair is working behind friend Bush's back trying to turn him on Kyoto. The prime minister secretly has lobbied U.S. senators, and British officials are collaborating with American environmentalist advocates. Lord May of Oxford, president of the British Royal Society, was able to convince science academies from 10 other countries (including the U.S.) to demand "prompt action" on global warming. Congress is closer than ever to enacting fossil fuel restrictions.

 "In reality, Kyoto was never about environmental policy," a White House aide told me. "It was designed as an elaborate, predatory trade strategy to level the American and European economies." The problem for Europeans has been that Bush refused to go along, ruining the desired leveling effect. The EU's industries have been devastated, while the U.S. has prospered.

 Europeans' desire to bring U.S. prosperity down to their level is no conspiracy theory of American conservatives. Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish vice president of the European Commission, in 2001 (when she was commissioner for the environment) said the Kyoto Protocol was "not a simple environmental issue . . . this is about international relations, this is about economy -- about trying to create a level playing field."

 The ground has been carefully prepared for the G8 summit at the Gleaneagles golf resort in Scotland July 6-8. A clever domestic politician, Blair in Washington last week balanced unpopular support for Bush on Iraq by splitting away from the Americans on aid to Africa and global warming. While the African question does not vitally affect U.S. interests, the Kyoto Protocol does. Blair was candid. "If the U.S. isn't part of this deal overall," he said on PBS's "NewsHour," "then it's very difficult to tackle the problem."

 As Blair met with Bush Tuesday, the report of the 11 national academies was released, with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences signing on in a major shift of position. On Wednesday, The New York Times published a story about White House official Philip Cooney editing government climate reports in ways that minimized the link between industrial emissions and global warming.

 The Times story was provided by Rick Piltz, a career civil servant and former Democratic congressional staffer who was inherited by Bush as a senior associate in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Since he resigned from the government earlier this year, he has been represented as a whistle-blower by the Government Accountability Project. Piltz on June 1 issued a 14-page paper attacking the "credibility" of the administration he had just left.

 The reason for all this activity is the EU's plight in regard to Kyoto's emissions reduction targets of five percent below the 1990 level. According to credible private sources, the EU's 15 nations will be 3 percent above 1990 and 10 percent above in carbon dioxide. Several countries are substantially over the targets, led by Portugal (61 percent over target), Spain (61 percent) and Greece (51 percent).

 While Blair mobilizes pressure on Bush at Gleaneagles, efforts will be made the next two weeks in the Senate to amend the energy bill to force reduced emissions. The global warming bill of Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, estimated by the energy industry to cost more than 600,000 jobs and ruin U.S. coal production, was easily defeated in 2003. However, thanks to possible defections by several Republican senators, a mandatory climate change amendment by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman might pass.

 George W. Bush is surrounded by hostile friends. Old bull Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, manager of the energy bill, may support the Bingaman amendment. Within his own administration, the departed mole Rick Piltz has many allies. And in the lakes and glens of Scotland, he will find dear friend Tony Blair winning points with the Labor left and his fellow Europeans.