The Secretaries of Treasury and Energy push back against Al Gore pressure on Bill Clinton to commit to reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.
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Gore Meets Resistance in Effort for Steps on Global Warming
April 19, 1993, New York Times
As President Clinton prepares to commemorate Earth Day with a speech on the environment, a dispute has broken out in the Administration over efforts by Vice President Al Gore to persuade Mr. Clinton to fulfill a campaign promise on specific steps to reduce the threat of global warming.
Mr. Gore, say aides in the White House and in several Cabinet agencies, has urged the President to commit the United States to freezing at 1990 levels the amount of global-warming pollutants pouring from cars, trucks and factories, a standard that would be reached by the year 2000.
Mr. Gore, the aides said, is arguing that such a commitment, promised during the 1992 campaign, would send an unmistakable message that the Clinton Administration is taking the lead in battling global environmental threats. Last year, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore criticized President George Bush for rejecting an identical commitment proposed by the European Community.
But Mr. Gore’s proposal has met resistance from several Cabinet members, principally Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary. Senior aides said both Secretaries contended that the Administration had not clearly studied how limiting air pollution from carbon dioxide, the principal source of scientific concern about global warming, would affect American industry.
The aides said such a commitment could also further endanger the energy tax Mr. Clinton has proposed. Opponents in Congress, the aides say, would seize on the commitment as proof that the Administration would seek to cut consumption of fossil fuels by drastically increasing the tax.
The aides, who spoke about the dispute only on the condition of anonymity, said that by the year 2000 the United States will be pouring 100 million metric tons more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it did in 1990. If Congress approves the energy tax, the Administration estimates that the amount of carbon dioxide would be reduced by 25 million metric tons by the end of the decade.
But the Administration has not yet figured out how to eliminate the rest, the aides said, and until it does officials in the Energy and Treasury Departments have urged the President not to make a commitment on global warming.
Balancing Earth and Economy
Although the aides differed about the intensity of the dispute, they agreed that it has provided the most revealing look yet at the enormous political pressures involved as the Administration tries to make environmental and economic goals compatible.
The struggle also is crucial for Mr. Gore, who has made a political reputation and a best-selling literary debut by discussing ecological problems and how to solve them. Last month the White House overruled Mr. Gore, who had promised to shut down a hazardous waste incinerator in Ohio after the White House overruled him. And he has been virtually silent on environmental issues since his inauguration.
Marla Romash, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gore, said nothing had been decided about the proposal and that the President’s speech, which he is to deliver on Wednesday, a day before Earth Day, was not yet written. “The President plans to commemorate Earth Day and to make clear this Administration’s commitment to growing the economy and protecting the environment,” she said. “There are no disagreements that I know of at all.”
But aides at several other agencies who have been involved in the discussions at the White House about the speech contradicted Ms. Romash.
“We all want to get to the same goal but we are not in agreement on what is the most cost-effective way to benefit the global environment and the American economy,” said a top aide at the Department of Energy. “It may take more time to work this out than we have before the President’s speech. We support the commitment made during the campaign. The issue is how to get there.”
Just as he did during the 1992 campaign, when he used Earth Day to deliver an important environmental policy address in Philadelphia, Mr. Clinton is apparently ready to make a splash again.
Aides in the White House and in other agencies say Mr. Clinton is considering announcing that he will reverse the Bush Administration’s position and sign an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. Mr. Bush was widely criticized for his decision at the Earth Summit last year in Rio de Janeiro.
Mr. Clinton could also announce that he has approved Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s plan to reorganize the scientific divisions in his department and establish a better scientific basis for managing the Department’s more than 500 million acres of land.
But none of the ideas the White House is considering for inclusion in Mr. Clinton’s speech have caused as much disagreement as the global-warming proposal. A commitment to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide that the United States puts into the atmosphere would affect every American, and put even more pressure on American industry to compete with Japanese and German manufacturers who already use energy more efficiently.
Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of burning oil, coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels and the only way to control it is to be much more judicious in using energy. The United States poured 1,381 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 1990 and is expected to increase that amount to 1,475 million metric tons by the year 2000, the Department of Energy says.
Carbon dioxide traps infrared radiation from the sun in the atmosphere, which raises the temperature on the ground. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been rising steadily over the last century but there is considerable dispute among scientists about whether that will present a significant ecological threat.