White House Document Raises Uproar At Warming Conference

Posted: April 19, 1990

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's attempt to avert quick action to stem global warming appeared to backfire yesterday when members of an international conference angrily rejected a White House statement stressing caution and more study.

"There was a substantial uproar here," said Rafe Pomerance, a researcher for the World Resources Institute, a think tank. "It was close to disaster. I don't think (the administration officials) succeeded in convincing anyone of their point of view. They got rolled."

"It looked like my working group was going to explode," said William K. Reilly, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Reilly was confronted by Padraig Flynn of Ireland, president of the European Community Environmental Council, who said later that he "challenged the status and the nature of the document."

Reilly disavowed the White House statement, which made it appear that delegates from the United States and the 17 other nations at the meeting agreed on the need for caution. Within an hour, administration officials throughout the meeting were disavowing or apologizing for the statement.

"That was a mistake," said D. Allan Bromley, President Bush's science adviser. "Unfortunately, it was in the form of a proposal. It was not a proposal."

Among other things, the statement, which proposed an ambitious international research effort, said delegates had said "gaps in scientific and economic understanding substantially limit the abilities of nations to gauge the economic and social consequences of policy measures that might be taken to address changes in the global environment."

Pier Vellinga, a member of the Dutch delegation, said it was ''embarrassing" when Energy Secretary James D. Watkins had to apologize to his working session for the statement.

"It did not reflect the discussion that was going on," Vellinga said.

Many of the European nations attending the White House Conference on Science and Economics Research Related to Global Change were going beyond the cautious U.S. approach and advocating cuts in the emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Cuts in that and other gases, many of which are created by the burning of fossil fuels, would require widespread societal changes.

"The policies of this administration are not made by pressures from the outside," Bromley told reporters. "We are a sovereign nation."

Bush, who spoke to the delegates yesterday afternoon as the two-day conference was ending, rejected the criticisms and said his positions had been mischaracterized as a choice between research or action.

"We have never considered research a substitute for action," he said.

His administration has called for a complete phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons, the chemical that is eroding the Earth's protective ozone layer and that is also a greenhouse gas. He has proposed an ambitious tree- planting campaign to absorb harmful carbon dioxide. He also is committed to a United Nations-sponsored program that will begin negotiating an international treaty later this year to address global warming.

But he has rejected the growing calls to cut or even stabilize carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, he wants exhaustive research into the costs of averting global climate change, saying too little is known to order drastic changes now.

A memorandum not intended for distribution at the conference provided a revealing look at the politics of the administration's position. The two-page memorandum, which was distributed to administration staff members but which also reached environmental activists, urged the staff to avoid specifics.

The memorandum, obtained by Dan Becker, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, told staff members that it would "not be beneficial to discuss whether there is or is not warming, or how much or how little warming. In the eyes of the public, we will lose this debate. A better approach is to raise the many uncertainties."

Bromley said he was unaware of the memorandum.

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