New EPA Report Puts Bush in Environmental Quandary ; Study on Threats of Global Warming Presents Dilemmas for a White House Skeptical about Climate Change

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Rocky Mountain meadows and barrier islands disappearing. Coral reefs damaged. Droughts, floods, rising sea levels.

This disturbing vision of climate change - or at least its potential - would not be a surprise coming from global-warming activists. But as a warning from the Bush administration, it clearly is.

In a report to the United Nations, the Environmental Protection Agency says that man-made greenhouse gases in the US will increase 43 percent between 2000 and 2020. And while acknowledging some scientific uncertainties, the EPA says that the recent warming trend "is real and has been particularly strong within the past 20 years ... due mostly to human activities."

This report from government agencies (the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the State Department, and others were involved as well) puts President Bush in something of a double bind.

From the start, and in line with energy and oil interests that are among his biggest supporters, the president has expressed skepticism about the scientific basis for reported climate change. He has resisted mandated cuts in carbon dioxide emissions (the main greenhouse gas). And he has refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international agreement setting goals and deadlines for industrial nations to reduce their impact on climate.

For now, he dismisses the 268-page EPA document as a "report put out by the bureaucracy," even though it comes nearly a year and a half into his own administration. This may serve to mollify some on the political right who are upset at the Bush administration's EPA report on global warming. But it's also given his environmental critics added political ammunition.

"Having admitted the extent of the problem and identified the cause, a policy of inaction becomes impossible to defend," says David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate program.

The president and administration insist that Bush's proposals indicate plenty of action on climate change, and will meet whatever global-warming challenges exist.

This includes the recently announced "Clear Skies" initiative, which reduces sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury emitted by power plants (although less than existing laws would require). As for carbon dioxide, the president's plan calls for voluntary steps leading to less "carbon intensity" (the amount of CO2 per unit of economic output), although the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere would continue to grow, assuming continued economic growth. …