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Bush calls for cuts in petrol use

January 24, 2007 By Emma Marris This article courtesy of Nature News.

Climate advocates 'underwhelmed' by president's vision.

On the night of 23 January, during his annual state of the union speech to the US Congress and the nation, President George W. Bush called for a 20 percent drop in petrol use by 2017. Bush also proposed raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and called for more research into alternative fuels. And he got a standing ovation when he referred to "the serious challenge of global climate change."

Yet climate experts were left wondering whether the president's proposals would make any difference. Vicki Arroyo, director of policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia, called the address "underwhelming". Bush's speech, she said, was "very light on actual commitments".

People are just going on without him
Vicki Arroyo
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Presidents usually use the state of the union speech to lay out their vision for the nation. In last year's speech, Bush a former oilman from Texas admitted that the nation was "addicted to oil", and called for more research into renewable energy. This year, he proposed continued investment into new ways to produce ethanol, currently made mostly from corn grown in America's heartland. Crucially for many, he did not propose any limits on carbon emissions.

Many in Washington DC feel that Bush has missed his chance to take the lead on climate change. The agenda is being set by individual states and the new, Democrat-led congress rather than by the president. "People are just going on without him," says Arroyo.

For instance, programmes to limit carbon emissions have sprung up in several parts of the country over the past several years. On 18 January, the new governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, signed his state back into a coalition of northeastern states, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The previous governor had pulled the state out of the pact, which in 2009 will set up a marketplace to buy and sell the right to emit carbon in those states.

Bills to combat climate change are also proliferating in both houses of Congress. Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, has set up a special committee, headed by Edward Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts), to investigate and report on legislation addressing climate change. The move is seen by many as an attempt to assert power over John Dingell (Democrat, Michigan), who heads the House Committee on Energy and Commerce which would usually take a lead on climate-change topics. Dingell, who has many employees from the automobile industry as his constituents and donors, has said that he doesn't think Pelosi's committee is necessary.

Will this internal power struggle stymie attempts to pass legislation dealing with climate change? Or will Pelosi's bold move ensure that any such legislation has a high impact? Frank Maisano, a spokesman for Bracewell & Giuliani, a law firm that represents the oil and gas industries, points out that "it is difficult for the Democrats themselves to figure out what policy they want."

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