Bush backs cutting emissions – sort of

For years to come, journalists and historians will probably be unearthing new shards of information about how the Bush administration evaded the intent of Congress and the American people on important issues. Consider the latest piece of what looks like a huge mosaic of White House antagonism to environmental protection.

It emerged Tuesday, and the timing was rich. It was the day President Bush agreed, with other Group of Eight leaders, to “move toward a low-carbon society.” Although the G-8 communique says only that the countries will “consider and adopt” reductions of at least 50 percent, and not until 2050, even for the president to seem to agree about reducing carbon emissions – sort of – is a welcome change.

But back home it's the same-old, same-old. Watch what they do, not what they say. While President Bush was smiling for the G-8 photo op in Japan, in Washington a former Environmental Protection Agency official was detailing how Vice President Dick Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony on global warming.

Until last month Jason Burnett was deputy associate EPA administrator and in charge of climate change issues. He said both the vice president's office and the Council on Environmental Quality wanted deletions in the proposed congressional testimony last fall of Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She had planned to say the “CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern.”

But, Mr. Burnett said, the CEQ asked him to work with the CDC to remove any discussion of human health consequences of climate change.

This isn't just an inside-baseball blip. Hanging in the balance is the possibility that, if the EPA declares greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health, it will be required to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court last year ruled the gases are pollutants and the EPA has authority to regulate them.

In fact, the White House is arrogantly stalling on the issue. After EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson asked staff to draft a finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, Mr. Burnett said he sent his report by e-mail.

The White House has simply refused to open it. Therefore the Bush administration still hasn't had to do anything to make anyone reduce any carbon emissions.

The whole thing is disgraceful. Indeed, White House spokesman Tony Fratto used an even better word. He told the Washington Post the interagency review process exists to enable review and comment on upcoming testimony. “There's nothing nefarious about that,” he said.

We disagree. The administration has a lengthy history of trying to squelch scientific findings that it considers inconvenient, or that might set in motion needed environmental protections. Mr. Fratto's word is apt: nefarious.