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Groups blast Bush for reversing position on emissions reductions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Environmental groups blasted the White House on Wednesday, saying President Bush has deeply damaged his credibility by his about-face on a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

"It only took the president 60 days to walk away from his most specific environmental pledge of the campaign," said Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "It is a disturbing indication that this president has a political tin ear on environmental issues."

In a letter to a lawmaker Tuesday, Bush said his administration will not impose mandatory emissions reductions for carbon dioxide on the nation's power plants. On the campaign trail, Bush had promised to do just that. Only a few weeks ago, Christine Whitman, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, reiterated that pledge.

"George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believed in a multi-pollutant strategy, and that includes CO2, and I have spoken to that," Whitman said during a February 26 interview with CNN's Crossfire. "He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming. It does exist. There is a real problem that we as a world face from global warming and to the extent that introducing CO2 to the discussion is going to have an impact on global warming, that's an important step to take."

Pressed further on Bush's stand, Whitman said there should be no doubt of his commitment to counting carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

"He talked about that during the campaign. He brought up the multi-pollutant strategy during the campaign," she said.

Many scientists believe that cutting carbon dioxide emissions is key to curbing global warming, a trend experts say will lead to rising sea waters, droughts and agriculture disasters in the future if unchecked.

In a new study published in the journal Nature, scientists with Imperial College in London said they found significant evidence of a greenhouse effect on Earth over the past 30 years. The greenhouse effect occurs when gasses in the atmosphere trap the Earth's heat.

In the letter to Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, Bush did not reference his campaign pledge, but noted that carbon dioxide is not consider a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and he said that placing caps on such emissions would lead to higher electricity prices.

Bush said the issue "warrants a re-evaluation, especially at a time of rising energy prices and a serious energy shortage."

Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat who sits on the House Resources Committee, took issue with Bush's explanation.

"It is insulting to the American people that President Bush is using the electricity crisis in California as an excuse to allow old, inefficient power plants to continue polluting our air," Miller said in a statement. "It is a strong indication that the Bush administration is kowtowing to the oil and coal industry and is not listening to science or public opinion."

Miller noted that even Bush's treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, has cited the dangers of global warming.

"I find it alarming that rather than listen to his own advisers, the president instead is listening to the lobbyists for the coal and oil industry who seek to continue to contaminate our air," Miller said.

Environmental groups were livid, and Democrats were expected to hold news conferences on Capitol Hill criticizing Bush's change of heart.

Clapp said Bush had undercut the authority of his own EPA chief by letting her make those public pronouncements and then "sawing off the limb right behind her." Clapp also criticized Bush for his proposal to open part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and his apparent opposition to a policy -- pushed by former President Clinton -- to ban logging and mining from certain areas in national forests.

"I can't think of a president that has assumed that bad an environmental record in only 60 days," Clapp said.

Fred Krupp, the executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said Bush' reversal undermines scientific efforts to combat global warming, "the key environmental threat of this century, while offering no alternative path to protect the planet."

Bush's decision came just days before some moderate Republicans and Democrats were to introduce a bill that would require limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Those lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and James Jeffords of Vermont, are scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday to unveil their bill.

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National Environmental Trust
Environmental Defense Fund

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