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U.S. After Rejecting Climate Treaty, Bush Calls In Tutors to Give Courses and Help Set

After Rejecting Climate Treaty, Bush Calls In Tutors to Give Courses and Help Set One

Published: By ANDREW April C. REVKIN 28, 2001

In the wake of its rejection of an international treaty to curtail global warming, the Bush administration is seeking advice from a wide array of scientists, economists, business representatives and policy experts as it tries to forge a new approach to the contentious issue. Most of those consulted, senior government officials said, are asserting that the science pointing to a serious problem is sound, and that there is need for concrete action to stem rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by smokestacks and tailpipes. Although the new effort is mainly taking the form of cabinet briefings behind closed doors, it is widely seen as a substantial broadening of a process that until recently was so tightly controlled by a small circle of advisers that cabinet members themselves often gave conflicting accounts of President Bush's plans. The broadening has elicited expressions of cautious relief from environmental campaigners and frustration by conservatives and skeptics about warming's dangers. But both sides said they could not predict how the review would influence the Bush administration, which is under pressure to devise an alternative to the rejected climate treaty.

''This group is reaching out for a diversity of views on climate issues,'' said Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman. ''This is a very serious matter that the president takes very seriously.'' At the briefings, held about once a week over the last month, half a dozen members of Mr. Bush's cabinet and, most of the time, Vice President Dick Cheney have spent a couple of hours in what amounts to Climate 101. The list of speakers has been dominated by scientists and policy experts who believe that a recent global warming trend is at least partly caused by humans, poses serious risks and requires a significant response to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The presenters have included Dr. James E. Hansen, a government climate expert who in 1988 testified about the problem before the Senate at the invitation of Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, and Dr. Daniel L. Albritton, the head of a federal climate laboratory and a lead author of an international report pointing to serious risks from global warming for coming decades. The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group, was widely criticized by conservative groups as biased but has been held up by many others as strong new evidence justifying action. The participants all declined to discuss the substance of the meetings at the request of the White House. But some said they saw the meetings as a sign of new openness on the issue. ''It is encouraging that they are spending serious time gathering information and facts in the development of their policy,'' said Kevin Fay, a business official who was a presenter at the most recent briefing, on Tuesday. Mr. Fay is the executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, an organization representing what he calls ''the progressive cowering middle of industry,'' businesses that seek to be environmental stewards, but with the bottom line in mind. Another sign of the administration's new tack in recent days is its recruitment of seasoned experts in climate issues from the ranks of various agencies as it assembles a team to come up with policy options, which officials plan to present to Mr. Bush by the end of May. Particularly urgent is an effort to come up with an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty that was negotiated and signed by the Clinton administration and summarily rejected by Mr. Bush last month. Mr. Bush said that its binding limits on greenhouse gases could harm the economy and that it unfairly excluded fast-growing economic powers like China and India. That decision came shortly after Mr. Bush renounced a campaign pledge he had made to include mandatory carbon dioxide cuts in a cleanup of power plants. Both announcements came after a flurry of lobbying by conservatives who have long opposed restrictions on carbon dioxide, which is, at least for now, a byproduct of almost every activity in modern industrial society. But the announcements produced a flood of bad press and the first bruises for Mr. Bush in some public opinion polls. With the dust settling, there is a growing realization at the White House that the blunt rejection of the treaty may have caused more problems than it solved. ''The decisions six weeks ago were made in an appalling vacuum of information,'' said a senior government official involved in the climate policy review, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. ''A substantial portion of the people involved wish they had it to do over again,'' the official said. ''They might still have rejected Kyoto, but probably in a different way. Now you're seeing a genuine effort to get a balanced perspective.'' The briefings have been intimate affairs, officials said, including only a handful of White House staff members and a varying roster of cabinet members and government executives -- generally from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, State and Treasury, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. The first two sessions, held at Commerce Department headquarters and then the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, were strictly science.

Dr. Albritton defended the international report he helped create. Dr. Ronald J. Stouffer, a designer of computer climate models at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a government research center in Princeton, N.J., talked about the difficulties posed by clouds, which as yet cannot be modeled accurately and so hamper predictions of the local consequences of a general climate warming. There were props. Dr. Hansen used a one-watt Christmas-tree bulb to represent the extra energy beating down on each half-square-yard of the earth's surface as a result of the growing blanket of greenhouse gases. Dr. Hansen has been of particular interest to the White House because last year he proposed that the best short-term attack on warming might come by focusing not on carbon dioxide but on methane, a less common but more potent greenhouse gas, and soot, which is not mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol but is increasingly thought to contribute both to warming and to serious health problems. Dr. Hansen was invited back to the second session, where he was joined by a prominent skeptic, Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, a meteorology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has long held that any climate influence from human activities is inconsequential. In the third session, focusing on economics, the administration stayed close to home, listening to Dr. Richard L. Schmalensee, the dean of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the administration of Mr. Bush's father. Dr. Schmalensee and other M.I.T. economists have repeatedly asserted that the Kyoto pact is an overly costly insurance policy. On Tuesday, the pendulum swung to experts who support the general goals of the Kyoto treaty but who concede that the existing language is rife with problems. They included Mr. Fay, from the business group, and another former official from the first Bush administration, William K. Reilly, who is the president of the World Wildlife Fund and was administrator of the E.P.A. Now the ball is in Mr. Bush's court, many observers say. The key question is whether he will choose some new way to get governments to agree to binding cuts in greenhouse gases or revert to the approach sought by his father, who at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty that preceded the Kyoto document but that called only for voluntary reductions in the gases. Some business groups that opposed the Kyoto treaty have greeted the chance for a fresh approach to the problem. But they also say there is danger in starting from scratch. ''We're not talking about totally erasing the blackboard,'' said Norine Kennedy, the vice president for environmental affairs of the United States Council for International Business, which represents several hundred companies. ''There's a lot in the protocol that should be retained.''