No Major Climate Initiatives From State of the Union

Dems, environmentalists call speech both "landmark" and a "missed opportunity."

Jan. 29, 2008 — -- On climate and environmental issues, there is mixed reaction this morning to President Bush's final State of the Union address. As expected, Bush did not call for any major initiatives to address the growing problems of global warming.

In his speech, the president called for more of the nation's power to come from so-called "clean coal," a technology that is commercially unproven, as well as from nuclear, solar and wind.

Environmental advocacy groups, members of Congress and even evangelical leaders sent out a flurry of press releases after — and some even before — the speech was delivered, reacting to what the president said (or did not say) about global warming.

As in 2007, the president mentioned the words "climate change" just once in the speech, and even then, only in the context of strengthening America's energy security.

"The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change," Bush said. "And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more efficient technology."

To that end, the president announced $2 billion to create a global clean technology fund, which he said would help developing nations increase the use of clean energy sources. He also hinted at the need for a new international climate treaty.

"Let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to 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," the president said.

Democrats saw a missed chance to address the effects of global warming.

"This was a golden opportunity for President Bush to embrace meaningful solutions to the global warming crisis," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in a statement. "The president says he favors bipartisan measures, but he failed tonight to join the growing bipartisan coalition behind the Lieberman Warner Climate Security Act. Instead, he offered the American people empty rhetoric and failed to take the bold action needed to avert dangerous climate change."

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said history will not favor Bush's stance on global warming.

"Too often, President Bush has used positive rhetoric to mask the reality that on his watch, the United States has undermined, not reinforced, the international effort to cap the emissions of heat-trapping gases that endanger the planet," Markey's statement read. "In his shortsighted concession to ignore real solutions to global warming in favor of expediency and special interests, he is risking the fate of the world. History is not likely to judge this legacy kindly."

Some environmental groups praised the president's proposal for a clean technology fund but said it doesn't go far enough.

"The president's proposal for a worldwide clean technology fund is a major landmark in addressing global warming," said Phil Clapp of the Pew Environmental Group. "Still, $2 billion is a very small amount of money given the scale of the problem. China alone is investing over $100 billion a year through its state-owned enterprises in new energy projects and resources, mostly in oil and coal-fired electricity. The president's proposed fund must be accompanied by a strong new climate treaty to direct global business investment into clean energy technologies."

Bush's speech was praised by 115 evangelical leaders working on climate issues.

"Helping poor countries develop cleanly is a genuinely compassionate conservative response to the problem of climate change, and we offer our moral support and prayers for the President's leadership," said a statement from the Rev. Jim Ball, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Starting Wednesday, some of the biggest greenhouse gas-polluting countries will meet in Honolulu for a two-day meeting hosted by the United States, aimed at advancing negotiations for a new international climate agreement once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

President Bush rejected the Kyoto treaty shortly after taking office in 2001 in favor of voluntary steps and "aspirational goals" to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, a group of almost 20 climate scientists, policy experts, mayors and others called on the president and the candidates to take more aggressive action to confront global warming.