The Week on the Hill

by Julie Walsh on February 4, 2008

President George W. Bush did not come out in favor of cap-and-trade legislation in his State of the Union address to Congress on Monday night, nor did he say whether the EPA would find that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health or welfare and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act or whether Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne would decide to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The president did say that the U. S. should, “complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.” He then added that, “This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride.”

The way I read this is that Bush is relying on China and India to save us from the stupid and colossally expensive policies that would be needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hiding behind China and India will probably work, but it would be much better for the U. S., as the world’s leading developing economy, to lead the developing countries against the policies of economic decline being pushed by the European Union. The Bush Administration should be making the moral case against putting the world on an energy starvation diet.

The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Dale Hall, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday on the proposed listing of the polar bear under ESA. The rumors from the Interior Department are that Hall, Secretary Kempthorne, and Under Secretary Lynn Scarlett are pushing for the listing against the scientific evidence presented by FWS field biologists. The ESA requires that a listing be based on the “best available scientific data”. Since most of the Arctic’s 19 bear populations have been increasing, the data suggests that the bear is not threatened. But computer models suggest that global warming will threaten the bear in the future. To my mind, computer models do not provide the best available scientific data. In fact, their speculative conclusions do not meet the minimal demands of the Federal Data Quality Act.

Although Hall may be pushing for the listing, he made some sensible comments at the hearing. He said that listing under the ESA will do little more to protect the polar bear than is already being done under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And he said that he didn’t think using the ESA was the right regulatory tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So perhaps the decision hasn’t yet been made to list the bear. As always, the most sensible remarks at the hearing were made by Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking Republican.


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