Bush's order on greenhouse gases little more than a punt
President Bush has directed federal agencies to develop a plan to cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
ADMONISHED by the U.S. Supreme Court for refusing to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the Bush administration appears to be taking steps toward lowering vehicle emissions that contribute greatly to global warming.
After six years of claiming a lack of authority to control the pollutants and forcing states and public interest groups to bring time-consuming lawsuits, President Bush has instructed federal officials to find a way to reduce gasoline usage and harmful gases.
It is a tardy and timid effort, giving the impression of taking care of business. But with a deadline at the end of 2008 -- three weeks before Bush departs the White House -- it is unlikely the plan will be embraced in whole by a new occupant.
In addition, the administration already is setting up scenarios for delays in whatever framework it devises, asserting that regulatory drafts typically take months longer than the time it has left to develop them.
In that light, Congress should not await Bush's plan and push forward with legislation already in the pipeline that would require higher fuel economy standards. Congress also should adjust current mileage benchmarks for gasoline-thirsty SUVs.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency should stand down from attempting to nullify initiatives by states like Hawaii and California that have approved comprehensive strategies for countering global warming pollution.
The high court last month rebuked the administration for claiming the Clean Air Act did not allow the government authority to regulate emission standards for new vehicles, even though cars contribute about a quarter of the U.S. share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and endanger public health.
Even with the ruling, clean air advocates did not anticipate bold action by the administration -- and unfortunately they were right not to.
Though Bush's ostensible compliance has the EPA and the departments of energy, transportation and agriculture creating measures to increase fuel economy and use of alternative fuels, the president wants whatever they formulate to be voluntary and market-based so as not to interfere with economic activity.
The administration should recognize that reducing pollution can increase economic activity, as many industries and businesses acknowledge.
Moreover, with gasoline prices shooting to record highs and oil prices fluctuating, the economy already is seeing some distress.
The president's order came on the same day the administration was fighting a lawsuit on fuel economy standards for light trucks and SUVs. The suit seeks to require the government to consider carbon dioxide emissions in calculating standards, something the administration refuses to do.
The mixed messages are another indication of the earnestness of the administration's efforts on greenhouse gas reductions.