Bush feels the heat on environment issues

Growing opposition from Congress and public set to shrink support base further.

UNITED States President George W. Bush is facing mounting opposition from the public and a Democrat-controlled Congress over environmental issues that threaten to erode his support base further.

On the one hand, 20 labour unions with nearly five million members are joining forces with a Republican-leaning umbrella group of conservationists with one aim: to get the Bush administration to protect wildlife. And on the other, there is bipartisan support for more action in the Congress. The top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee introduced a resolution this week calling on the US to return to international talks on climate change.

The measure, passed by chairman Joseph Biden and ranking Republican member Richard Lugar, said global warming should compel Washington to take the lead and move beyond the 1997 Kyoto pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. US allies Britain and Germany have pressed for a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol that ends in 2012.

The Bush administration, concerned that targets for reducing carbon emissions would damage the US economy, pulled out of the pact in 2001.

There has been speculation that Mr Bush will agree to caps on carbon emissions to fight global warming, reversing years of resistance to such a plan.

But the White House dismissed this. “If you’re talking about enforceable carbon caps…we knocked that down,” spokesman Tony Snow said on Tuesday.

Instead, the President is likely to emphasise during his annual State of the Union speech to Congress next week the importance of scientific innovation, and to call for greater use of alternative energy sources, in particular ethanol and hydrogen fuels, to reduce the country’s “addiction to oil”.

This will only invite greater pressure at home – and abroad.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already raised the issue with Mr Bush.

Germany currently holds the presidency of the European Union as well as the G-8, whose summit this summer will focus on climate change.

The topic is also set to dominate next week’s annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But opposition is greater at home. Several US states, especially California, have taken matters into their own hands, criticising Washington for not acting.

Ms Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and the new chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, is introducing a national Bill that follows her state’s example and seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Of greater concern for the administration is the reaction of the broader American public – already disenchanted with Iraq and other policies.

The environment issue will only drag the Mr Bush’s popularity down further.

The Washington Post reported this week that 20 labour unions had forged an alliance with old-guard conservationists linked to the Republican Party to press for increased federal funding for wildlife habitat.

The strength of that backlash is making bedfellows of blue-collar workers and conservationists. For Mr Bush, that means his traditional support base is crumbling further.

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