At a symposium marking the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week, six former agency heads—five Republicans and one Democrat—united in accusing the Bush administration of ignoring serious environmental threats, including global warming.
“I don’t think there’s a commitment in this administration,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, the agency’s first administrator at its inception in 1970.
Russell Train, the agency’s second administrator during the Nixon and Ford administrations, commented that slowing the growth of greenhouse gases would not be enough to stave off major future problems. “To sit back and just push it away and say we’ll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive,” he said.
When asked by the symposium moderator whether global warming is a real problem and whether human actions are to blame, all six former administrators, as well as current EPA chief Stephen Johnson, all raised their hands in agreement.
But Johnson went on to defend President Bush’s stance on climate change, saying that the administration has thus far spent $20 billion on research and technology to combat global warming. He also echoed the White House position that signing onto the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty calling for mandatory emissions reductions, would have caused irreparable damage to the U.S. economy.
But Carol Browner, EPA head under President Clinton, dismissed the Bush position on climate change as a “wait-and-see” approach and advocated for adoption of a carbon dioxide trading program to lower overall emissions.
“If we wait for every single scientist who has a thought on the issue of climate change to agree, we will never do anything,” said Browner. “If this agency had waited to completely understand the impacts of DDT, the impacts of lead in our gasoline, there would probably still be DDT sprayed and lead in our gasoline,” she concluded.