Last night, as President Bush stepped to the well of the House floor to deliver his final State of the Union address, at least one thing was clear — this president is a big fan of recycling. Unfortunately, I am not talking about the plastics and glass in my bottle bill, but the retooling of old rhetoric on global warming and our energy future.
Here is my attempt to inject a little reality into the old Bush rhetoric rolled out in the State of the Union:
Bush claim: "To build a future of energy security, we must trust in thecreative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs andempower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment allrequire reducing our dependence on oil."
Reality: President Bush threatened a veto on the tax portion of the recently-passed energy bill, which included major incentives for a new generation of clean energy — incentives that would have heralded a new era in green technology development. The Bush veto threat also killed the Renewable Electricity Standard which would have required that up to 15 percent of our electricity be generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020. He also opposes any mandatory cap-and-trade bill that would unleash the technology to meet the climate challenge by setting a price on carbon emissions.
Bush claim: "The President will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to work with major economies and through the UN to complete an international agreement that will slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride."
Reality: Although the Bush administration now appears to have abandoned its outright denial of the global warming crisis, it is rightly viewed worldwide as one of the major obstacles to an effective international agreement to combat global warming. The United States is still the largest emitter of global warming pollution, yet the Bush administration has steadfastly opposed any meaningful domestic caps on carbon emissions. If the President really wants to show his commitment to reaching a global climate agreement, he can start by announcing his support for a domestic economy-wide cap and trade program that will reduce U.S. global warming pollution. Only when the United States shows leadership on the home front will other countries will have an reason to join in a meaningful global agreement.
Bush claim: "In December, the United States joined the global consensus at the UN Climate Conference in Bali to launch a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ for global climate negotiations.The Bali Action Plan is a critical first step in moving the UN negotiation process forward toward a comprehensive and effective post-2012 arrangement by 2009. The United States looks forward to participating in the negotiations envisioned in the Bali Action Plan, including through the Major Economies Process and other appropriate channels to achieve an effective outcome."
Reality: In the face of an historic international diplomatic push, the Bush administration was forced to agree to the Bali Action Plan, but not until after substantially weakening this agreement by refusing to include the goal of stopping the growth in global emissions of heat-trapping gases in the next 10-15 years.
The pundits were quick to paint this State of the Union as a lame duck effort, devoid of any new policy goals. But the truth is President Bush will spend many nights over the next year reflecting on his legacy. Perhaps he will think of his political hero Ronald Reagan, the man who came to Washington with hawkish vigor for nuclear proliferation, yet left office respected for his face-to-face meeting with Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, which led to the two superpowers agreeing to reduce nuclear weapons.
If the hawk could learn to fly like a dove, can the oil man from Texas truly come clean on the environment? Only if Congress forces that choice on the President Bush, by presenting him with a strong climate bill this year. A cap-auction-and-trade bill is the vehicle that can present Bush with his Reykjavik moment — a legacy-defining choice to transition our nation to a true green economy and protect the future of this beautiful planet for generations to come.
NOTE: This blog post is part of the Blog for the Union, a joint effort by several Democratic Members of Congress to expand the dialog on the State of the Union.