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Monday, 22 January, 2001, 11:26 GMT
Analysis: How green is Bush?

It is easy to see why supporters of international efforts to tackle global warming are worried by the presidency of George W Bush.


He has repeatedly sided with big business and industry that wants to pollute more and have fewer laws to comply with

Environmentalist Peter Altman
The president's home state is also the home of the US oil industry, and it comes as no surprise that Texas leads the way in emissions of greenhouse gases. With around a third of the population of the UK, the Lone Star State emits 20% more carbon dioxide.

Add to that Mr Bush's background in the oil business, and it is not surprising that European leaders scrambled - unsuccessfully - to try to get an international deal on measures to cope with climate change before Bill Clinton left the White House.

The appointment of the pro-industry Gale Norton as the new secretary of interior has raised further alarm among green campaigners.

The BBC's Panorama programme looks at an environmental disaster in George W Bush's backyard

Peter Altman runs an environmental pressure group in Austin which has been tracking the Bush record during his term as governor of Texas. He says it should serve as a warning about his likely approach to the environment as president.

"He has repeatedly sided with big business and industry that wants to pollute more and have fewer laws to comply with," said Mr Altman.

"He advocated a voluntary approach to an air pollution problem that was deadly serious. He is telling polluters, you clean up if you want to, we're not going to make you."

George W Bush
George W Bush has said he is opposed to the Kyoto protocol
During the election campaign, the Bush team was pushed onto the defensive about the governor's environmental record in Texas - the Republicans claimed that he had in fact started to reduce emissions from the state's utilities.

But when you speak to his advisers, it is clear that Mr Bush has little time for the international efforts to bind the United States to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"He has said that he does not support the Kyoto Protocol," said Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for the Bush election campaign, during the battle for the White House.

"He believes it is unfair to the United States. He does want to do more to research the causes of global climate change, but he wants decisions to be based on science, not on fads or junk science."

Ambivalent

That confirms the impression Mr Bush gave during the campaign about being at best ambivalent as to whether he believed there was a link between emissions and climate change.

It also has echoes of the language used by those oil companies which continue to oppose the Kyoto agreement.

Pete Altman says European leaders should have no illusions about George Bush when it comes to international negotiations.

"They should just assume that in reality they are negotiating with Exxon Mobil, which has written Bush's environment laws in the past, and which is a company that now has strong ties to a Bush administration."

Less willing to compromise

Whether or not that changes as Mr Bush faces the reality of leading the world's most powerful country, it is a fair bet that he will be considerably less willing than the Clinton administration to compromise with European governments who are pressing the United States to adopt tougher targets to reduce its own emissions.

That is why there were frantic efforts in the final days of the Clinton presidency to rescue the deal which eluded negotiators at November's climate change conference in The Hague. The failure of those efforts does not bode well for the future of international attempts to tackle global warming.

Confidence has not exactly been helped by comments from the woman chosen to head the US Environmental Protection Agency under Mr Bush, the Governor of New Jersey, Christie Whitman.

Asked for her comments on the science of global warming, Mrs Whitman replied: "Still somewhat uncertain. Clearly there's a hole in the ozone, that has been identified.

"But I saw a study the other day that showed that that was closing. It's not as clear, the cause and effect, as we would like it to be."

She was confusing two separate problems - the build-up of gases which warm the atmosphere and the depletion of the ozone layer which allows ultra-violet rays from the sun to reach the Earth.

Alaskan drilling

However, Mrs Whitman - regarded as being on the left of the Republican Party - has not provoked as much ire among environmentalists as Mr Bush's choice for the secretary of interior.

The nomination of Gale Norton as secretary of interior has focused attention on her record as attorney-general in Colorado, where she allowed polluters to police themselves, and led to suggestions that she will adopt a similarly laissez-faire policy nationally.

Ms Norton has tended to take conservative positions on environmental issues, backing Mr Bush's call to open up public lands in Alaska to oil drilling.

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