Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: C. Boyden Gray

It is said, by Martin Allday, sadly—correctly, but sadly—that energy and the environment often clash. They shouldn’t, and at the end of the day they really don’t, I think. But the way the government’s organized, fragmented, it’s very hard to coordinate. One of my favorite stories—Bill, you had to testify, did you not, to about thirty-five or forty committees?

William K. Reilly: Seventy-eight.

Gray: Seventy-eight. Well, half right. It was very, very difficult. Tim Wirth, who is now the undersecretary of state, then, at the time, was a senator from Colorado on the Energy Committee, called me up one day and said, “You’re not doing enough about global warming.” And I said, “Well, I’m not sure we want to, Tim, but we’re trying to get our act together and get all the agencies working together, and we can’t get the Department of Agriculture to come to the table.” And he said, “What does agriculture have to do with it?” And I said, “Well, Tim, the burning of the rain forest in Brazil is one of the great sources of CO, and the forests are of course the principal sink, and agricultural practices are 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s impossible to do anything about it without agriculture, which may be the single biggest important component.” And he said, “But agriculture is irrelevant to global warming. Trees, crops, and forests—they’re irrelevant.” And I said, “But Tim, you’ve just come back from the rain forest”—which he had; he’d been down there with Heinz just before Heinz was killed—”How could you say that?” He said, “Different committee.” Different committee. So, there you are.

I once introduced Martin to Bill Rosenberg, who was the assistant to Bill Reilly for air, which is the big, big—the biggest, I think, of the divisions in EPA, with a huge amount of indirect regulatory control over gas. And the two had never met—I mean, either themselves or their offices. That is, the two biggest regulators of natural gas in the world never met for most of the existence of these two regulators. This is—only in America could this happen. Pollution really is air pollution, and much of water pollution is really nothing more than the residue of incomplete combustion, so the more efficient and economical you can have your energy use, the less pollution you’re going to have. So they should work in concert. I think that, as much as anything, explains what President Bush did over the course of the twelve years, when he was sort of the chief deregulator in the first two Reagan terms and then became president himself.

When Reagan and Bush came into office, the country was beset by extraordinarily high energy prices and high pollution. It was the worst of all possible worlds. The environmentalist theory that high energy prices will discourage pollution was clearly not working. And what Bush did, over the course of the twelve years, was to flip it and reduce energy prices and also reduce pollution, therefore

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