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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2008

Bush finally warms up on a key issue

Forget the tree-shaped toilet plungers and eco-friendly cat scratchers.

The oddest Earth Day product this year is President Bush's plan to address global warming.

Announced Wednesday, it calls for 17 more years of sluggishness. Mr. Bush set 2025 as his "national goal" for turning the corner on greenhouse gases - the first time he's committed himself to a date, however meaningless it is.

Predictably, his ideas were greeted by a mix of cheers and jeers.

In his speech, posted on whitehouse.gov, Mr. Bush made a passing reference to a meeting in Paris in which world leaders had a brainstorming session about global warming - a warm-up, if you will, for a bigger climate confab in July.

Uh-huh.

I'm sure the announcement had nothing to do with an unpopular, lame duck President trying to create some buzz for his party's nominee to succeed him, Republican John McCain, just as Americans were gearing up for yet another odd assortment of Earth Day events at shopping malls and nature preserves.

Oh, and let's not forget the Pennsylvania primary is Tuesday, the same day Earth Day falls this year.

I'm sure the announcement had nothing to do with trying to keep Democrats divided over Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Naw.

I'm glad Mr. Bush weighed in, even with token rhetoric. It speaks more about the power of this issue than his presidency.

Does anyone honestly believe he'll set the agenda for future generations? Of course not. Even utilities expect a cap-and-trade system or a tax on carbon emissions from the next Congress. Mr. Bush is now a little kid playing on a ball diamond until the grown-ups arrive and set up their gear.

Near the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brass - on orders from the White House, I'm told - fought hard at the Society of Environmental Journalists national conference in Pittsburgh to dispel the belief that Mr. Bush was indifferent to climate change.

With two weeks to go and the race against Democratic challenger John Kerry still too close to call, one federal EPA speaker after another hammered out the theme that Mr. Bush - like Mr. Kerry - accepted the science behind human-induced changes to the Earth's climate. They said the two simply differed over the Kyoto Protocol because of its potential impact on the U.S. economy.

That made me think back how far global warming had come in a short time. Just a few years earlier, Mr. Bush's father had mocked Al Gore for his views.

The current president found global warming politically expedient to acknowledge as an issue in the 2004 election. In 2008, he finds it a must-do policy initiative (or appearance thereof).

Which brings us to Mr. McCain. He is co-sponsor of the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007. So is Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut senator who would have been vice president if things had turned out differently for Mr. Gore in the 2000 election.

Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton signed on to that bill, one of several proposals for a carbon cap-and-trade system. It has been mired in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A stronger bill Mr. Lieberman sponsored with Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the Climate Security Act of 2007, was endorsed by an 11-8 vote in December, the first major piece of climate legislation to make it through that committee.

The two senators said Wednesday they were pleased to see Mr. Bush come on board with the concept of addressing climate change. They said they hope to get a vote on their bill in the full Senate this summer.



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