America's Energy Policy; Are Political Winds Shifting?
Byline: Paul J. Saunders and Vaughan C. Turekian, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In previous years, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change earlier this month would have been a non-event, at least as far as the vast majority of Americans are concerned. And in terms of its practical output, the meetings in Nairobi, Kenya lived up to this lofty historical standard.
But while the session failed to achieve one of its key goals, establishing a time frame for setting future greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, its context appears to have whetted the appetite of a global environmental movement hungry to bring the United States into the Kyoto Protocol or another binding international system of targets and timetables. A key element of that context was the previous week's elections in the United States, which produced a tasty and long-awaited appetizer a Democrat-controlled Congress. Nevertheless, anyone hoping to see Washington agree to binding limits on emissions is likely to leave the table unsatisfied.
A letter to President Bush from Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman, Barbara Boxer and Joseph Lieberman provoked particular excitement at the international gathering. In the letter, the incoming chairs of the Senate's Energy, Environment, Homeland Security and Government Affairs committees announced their intention to establish mandatory limits on greenhouse gases in the United States. The three will also likely hold high-profile hearings on the topic a major change from the Republican Congress. And pressure is growing outside of Washington too, not least in California, where newly re-elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has given considerable attention to climate change, including through high-profile engagement with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mr. Bush is clearly not ignorant of the growing political importance of the climate issue but just as clearly has his own views on how to address it. During his conciliatory post election press conference, Mr. Bush twice referred to energy policy, rather than climate, as an area in which he expected to work with congressional Democrats. Since then, other White House officials have repeated and expanded this theme while focusing predominantly on policies to reduce American dependence on imported oil through incentives to encourage the use of alternative fuels. Despite a sharp drop in prices after months of three-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, this issue still resonates with voters (in part because it is tied to U.S. engagement in the Middle East, including Iraq) and the use of ethanol and other biofuels could reduce America's net greenhouse-gas emissions too.
Interestingly, a number of powerful Democrats may not object to Mr. Bush's approach. …