Ochenski: Clueless in D.C. 

Bush’s voluntary climate plan is just a lot of hot air

In spite of his earlier campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants, President Bush’s newly-announced climate plan won’t limit greenhouse gases or reduce global warming. In fact, national and international experts agree that the Bush plan won’t do much at all and may well lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Given the influence of the energy industry within the Bush administration, this doesn’t come as a big surprise. But weighed against the cumulative effects of Montana’s past three years of severe drought—and the daunting prospect that we are headed into a record fourth year—we must wonder how much more our environment or economy can tolerate as our clueless leaders in D.C. ignore the signs and substitute transparent political posturing for desperately needed actions.

The defining term of the Bush non-action plan is a clever deception substituting the reduction of “greenhouse gas intensity” for actual reduction in greenhouse gases. What’s the difference? Simple. As the biggest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases, hundreds of power plants across the nation could produce real results by reducing emissions of the gases generally agreed to be adding to climate change and global warming. The Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was rejected by Bush and his team of energy magnates, called for the reduction of U.S. emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 and concentrated on absolute reduction of these gases. Bush’s “greenhouse gas intensity” sleight-of-hand does not.

Considering the shameful rate at which this nation consumes and wastes energy while concurrently polluting the global environment, taking concrete steps to bring us more in line with global per capita energy consumption and pollution profiles would be a welcome and legitimate goal of our “first world” society. But rather than admitting that America could and should clean up its sizeable contribution to the world’s pollution problem, Bush has lashed emission reductions to the state of the economy in a tricky little equation that divides tons of greenhouse gases by millions of dollars of Gross Domestic Product to come up with America’s “greenhouse gas intensity.” Back on the campaign trail, this is what old W. used to call “fuzzy math.” But if critics like the Union of Concerned Scientists are right, even by Bush’s own projections of economic growth, the emissions will increase by 14 percent in the next 10 years, just as they have in the preceding 10 years, and not decrease by 18 percent, as Bush says.

So who’s right? As everyone knows, competing theoretical equations keep a lot of academics, scientists, lobbyists and public relations people busy in the political arena. For what it’s worth, Montana has probably had more than its share of experience in these “theory vs. reality” issues. For example, while the list of victims continues to grow, corporate lawyers and scientists argue over the toxicity of asbestos and mining wastes. Living in Montana, with the very real effects of drought, no matter what the politicians say, the on-the-ground impacts are getting damn hard to ignore. Last year, heading east from the Continental Divide, some 300 miles of the Musselshell River went dry. Meanwhile, the Yellowstone, the last great, undammed river in the lower 48, fed by Yellowstone Park’s wildlands and the daunting heights of the Absaroka-Beartooth range, dwindled to record low flows. To the west, the entire Pacific Northwest region was so dry that the resulting loss of hydropower production contributed to astronomic electricity price increases and idled large users like the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. The lack of water pitted electricity production against preservation of threatened and endangered salmon, against irrigated farming, literally turning neighbor against neighbor. As for the drought-caused forest fires, here we are, two years later, still fighting over what to do with the aftermath while the drought and threat of more fires mounts.

As a solution, we are offered an environomic shell game by President Bush. Adding insult to injury, the Bush plan is toothless. Forget inspections and regulations—voluntary actions by polluters will get the job done if you believe Bush’s crazy rap. The same guy who thinks we need to spend a billion bucks a day on the military and “pay any price” to wage a never-ending war on terrorism thinks we can stabilize the earth’s climate through voluntary emissions reductions. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hilarious.

Yet, even in this vacuum of political reality, the “little people,” the ones who live down here on the ground and actually experience the impacts of climate change, are taking their own steps to reduce energy demand. Bush, Cheney, Racicot, or any of their energy-sucking buddies will tell you new production is the answer to our energy future. But the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission just released data showing that residential conservation saved 622,000 megawatt-hours in the June to October period. That’s enough juice to power 44,000 homes for a full year. Industry-based efforts produced only 12,900 megawatt-hours bought back from industrial users and 16,400 megawatt-hours from reduced irrigation pumping. Simply put, residents saved more than 21 times as much electricity as industry and ag combined. Just think what we could accomplish if we invested that billion bucks a day Bush wants to spend on the military in conservation efforts and developing renewable, sustainable energy sources. America could become the respected leader in reducing the threat to global climate change while securing our national energy future and developing and implementing technologies to help the rest of the world follow suit.

Maybe it’s being in air-conditioned jets, offices, and limos all the time that is responsible for the president’s seemingly total separation from reality on climate change. Or maybe because he’s from Texas, he thinks every place should be bone dry and grow cactus, scorpions, and oil wells. Then again, as all the evidence suggests, maybe Bush’s team, with its million-dollar ties to the energy industry—and all the similarly-tied senators and representatives who are backing his plan—are simply clueless in D.C.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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