O'Neill Wants Bush to Focus on 'Global Warming'

The internal Bush Administration conflict over global warming policy was settled last week when President Bush decided carbon dioxide would not be regulated as a pollutant. But a revealing memo penned by Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill suggests the controversy is far from over.

On February 27, two weeks before the CO2 story broke, O’Neill outlined for Bush a comprehensive strategy to address global warming. Among other things, O’Neill urged Bush to "develop a process for achieving a consensus on the targeted limit of greenhouse gas concentrations." That would provide the basis, he said, for a "set of world interventions and actions that make economic and environmental sense."

O’Neill urged Bush to address global warming immediately.

He recommended an "analysis" for "amending or replacing the Kyoto treaty" with another international pact "grounded in science" and "aimed at reducing concentrations rather than emissions." And while he regarded Kyoto skeptically, he encouraged Bush to stay fully engaged in the treaty’s next round of negotiations this summer.

O’Neill’s alarmism on the subject is not new. In 1998, as chairman of aluminum giant Alcoa, O’Neill gave a speech in which he compared global warming to a "nuclear holocaust." Despite the lack of scientific consensus on whether global warming is actually occurring or what its impact on climate and weather might be, O’Neil lsaid that "global climate change may be a substantial issue that we need to deal with, and we should do it now."

In that same speech, O’Neill suggested establishing a "Manhattan Project" level of "intensive investment and massing of resources in order to reduce the uncertainties about the connection between concentrations of atmospheric gases and the dangers of global warming."

In a section titled "How to Get Started," O’Neill’s February 27th memo mentioned several people who could advise Bush on the complexities of global warming science and economics. One of those "advisors" O’Neill suggested was Michael Oppenheimer, an environmental scientist with the ultra-liberal Environmental Defense Fund.

On Dec. 9, 1997, Oppenheimer told Ted Koppel on ABC’s "Nightline" that "the notion that economic growth is related to energy production is totally false." Oppenheimer claimed the Kyoto Protocol, contrary to numerous private and governmental studies, would be economically beneficial to the United States in the long-term. The best way to prepare for Kyoto, he said, is "to move away from fossil fuels towards solar energy."

O’Neill also recommended William Merrell, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. The Heinz Center is a liberal foundation whose members support the Kyoto Protocol and expanding federal environmental regulations. O’Neill served on the Heinz Centerboard before he became treasury secretary.

While Bush has taken a position against both Kyoto and federalcaps on carbon dioxide emissions, questions remain over O’Neill’s influence on sensitive environmental policy issues. Also, conservatives are still concerned about EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, who was a driving force for caps on CO2 before grudgingly going along with Bush’s decision to forgo them. (Whitman also enthusiastically supported CO2 controls as governor of New Jersey.)

Whitman and O’Neill backed off only after they ran into strong opposition from Vice President Dick Cheney, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham, and Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey, all of whom are crafting the administration’s energy policy. Cheney & Co. argued persuasively that capping carbon dioxide emissions could not be squared with increasing energy supply, a key component of Bush’s energy plan. They also pointedly reminded Bush of his campaign position on the Kyoto treaty: that it posed unacceptable burdens on the American economy (Cheney said last week that the treaty is "seriously flawed").

On the surface, Bush’s decision appeared final. But O’Neill, Whitman, and sympathetic Clinton holdovers at EPA could act as a countervailing force against Cheney and his energy team, which supports nuclear power and greater oil and natural gas production over conservation as the better way to reduce the nation’s energy problems.


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